Kennedy Kane “Ken” McArthur

Kennedy Kane “Ken” McArthur was born in Dervock in Co. Antrim in 1881. It’s said he caught the running bug as a postman, delivering letters and parcels on foot to houses up and down County Antrim.

He would even race against the narrow gauge railway engine that would pass through his town to see how fast he could go!

In 1901, Ken moved to South Africa (then known as the Union of South Africa) to serve under the South African Constabulary – a special police force that was to look after law and order in some areas of South Africa during the last two years of the Boer War.

Photograph of Kennedy Kane McArthur

Road to the Olympics

Instead of returning to Ireland like most after the war, he ended up staying and marrying in Potchefstroom, remaining a police officer in Johannesburg. It was only when he moved to South Africa where he started taking athletics seriously, entering into marathon races and track and field competitions.

Ken ran six marathons between 1908 to 1912, all of which he won. In the Durban Marathon of 1910, he apparently finished 15-20 minutes ahead of his nearest rival – and was seen smoking a big pipe of tobacco – nowadays not recommended for anyone involved in a long run!

Photograph of Kennedy Kane McArthur running the marathon of the Stockholm Olympics in 1912
Kennedy Kane McArthur running the marathon of the Stockholm Olympics in 1912.

He was selected to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912. On the day of the race, it was an incredibly warm day – only about half of the runners were able to complete the marathon and one person died due to the heat.

Ken persisted on, taking second place behind another South African, Christian Gistham. Gistham decided to take a break for water at one of the refreshment stops near the end, expecting Ken to stop as they had agreed.

However, Ken went on without a break, and ended up taking victory.

Shizo Kanakuri

The Stockholm marathon in 1912 is not only known for this legendary takeover, but also for having the longest completion time for a marathon – Shizo Kanakuri of Japan also ran the 1912 marathon, but failed to complete it until 1967 when he was invited back to finish the last 100 metres of the marathon during the 55th anniversary of the Games in Stockholm.

This gave him the unbeaten record of taking 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds to complete the marathon!

Legacy

Sadly, Ken’s own running career was cut short, injuring himself just a year after his amazing feat in Stockholm.

He never returned to the racing track and settled down with his family.

Today, an arena in Potchefstroom is named after Ken (McArthur Stadium), which is still used today by runners training to become the next Ken McArthur!