THE FIRST LONG BEACH MARATHON WAS ALL ABOUT THE WINNING RACEBy Dave Wielenga
The human carnival known as the Long Beach Marathon put on its annual extravaganza Sunday and the colorful images and accounts that are overflowing Greater Long Beach-area media outlets today suggest that not a sideshow was missed.
However, there is one oversight we would like to respectfully report to whoever has determined that the official number of Long Beach Marathons is 28 and to everybody else who has decided to go with along with that number. It’s wrong, off by one. Sunday was not the 28th Long Beach Marathon. It was the 29th.
The first Long Beach Marathon was held on May 23, 1931. The event was a co-production of the Press-Telegram and the Young Men’s Division of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce (now known as the Junior Chamber or JayCees). The 26-mile, 385-yard course started in front of the Press-Telegram Building at Sixth and Pine, wandered as far north as Artesia Boulevard, then came more directly back downtown, concluding at a finish line drawn in front of the Chamber of Commerce Building on Ocean at Elm.
The Long Beach Pre-Olympic Marathon was obviously inspired by Southern California’s preparations for the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, which would open at the Los Angeles Coliseum in less than a year. But local reaction to the event played out in a way that seemed to draw from the same Long Beach mindset that only four years earlier in 1927 had welcomed a convention of the Ku Klux Klan, which staged a 26,000-member from downtown along Ocean to to Bixby Park.
Although ballyhooed as a major international event, the Long Beach Pre-Olympic Marathon drew a field of only 26 runners, of which 14 finished and 12 were were picked up along the route. Seven of the starters were from the Sherman Indian Institute in Riverside, and they became the focus of the pre-race publicity—most of which consisted of cruel and/or corny plays on racial stereotypes.
When one of the Sherman runners, Franklin Suhu, outsmarted and outkicked favorite Bob Angier to win the Long Beach Pre-Olympic Marathon, the insults multiplied. The situation reached its low point two days after the race, when Angier disparaged Suhu’s victory on moral grounds—claiming that life at Sherman Institute was a violation of the tenets of amateur sport, a worry-free existence that gave him the free time to train endlessly while Angier and his colleagues had jobs and families.
More than 50 years passed before the second Long Beach Marathon, and a lot changed. Egalitarian celebration was the emphasis of the small group of running-buddy business people who revived the event in the early 1980s. Now those philosophies are a tradition.Like all traditions, this one periodically appears to run a little low on purpose. For example, ask people to name the winners of Sunday’s race and watch it slowly dawn on them that the Long Beach Marathon is … oh, yeeeaaahhh … a sporting event. Then watch them relax, realizing your interest in the first-place finishers wasn’t random—and there won’t be 25,000 followup questions about the fates of everybody else who gathered at the starting line.
Yes, sometimes all this E Pluribus Unum over something as truly insignificant—and yet truly difficult—as devoting a Sunday morning to 26 miles, 385 yards of self-propulsion goes over the top with its metaphors for self esteem and visions of utopia. But next time that happens … well … consider the alternative. It’s here in Press-Telegram reporter Art Cohn’s morning after account of the first Long Beach Marathon, printed May 24, 1931:
STRATEGY HELPS INDIAN TAKE MARATHON
By ART COHN
In recalling the stirring battle of yesterday’s Press-Telegram pre-Olympic Marathon, an electrifying finish that carried Franklin Suhu, a 108-pound Redskin, to the sunny heights of victory, one is thoroughly convinced that Indian-giving and cunning generalship were synonymous.
The Sherman redskins, in a rare gesture of magnanimity, gave the lead to old Bob Angier, 36-year-old white hope, at 2 P.M. yesterday. True to Indian tradition, they took back their gift at 2:47 P.M. And kept it.
Yesterday’s real story was how Angier’s desperate challenge was repulsed. About him all the drama of the titanic struggle was woven. For more than fifteen miles, Silas Ghahate, a Zuni, toyed with the bald-pated Chicago veteran. Then, on the homestretch, up came Suhu, a Hopi, to pass him like the wind.
Marathoning long has been the pace that killed. How it killed off Angier yesterday!
Following Wrong One!
The veteran statistical clerk was determined to win. In that fierce resolve to conquer the redskins he neglected an all-important detail. He followed the wrong Indian!
For the first ten miles … down Pine, up American to Willow, over Willow to Perris Road, into Truck Boulevard and out Artesia way … it was a three-cornered tussle. Judging their pace admirably, Ghahate and Elmo the Lomachutzke-oma drew Angier out into the open. He was at their mercy.
Ghahate followed instructions to the letter. He was off like he was headed for a blanket sale. That first ten miles he raced in 57 minutes, 15 seconds … while poor old Suhu, the ultimate victor, was lost in the shuffle seven or eight minutes behind!
Elmo Forced Out.
Over the gravel of Truck Boulevard the bunioneers plodded, Ghahate and Elmo jockeying Angier as they pleased. But, old Bob was running one of his greatest races. One of the redskins bit the dust at the fourteen-mile mark when Elmo Whatzisname, the man nobody can pronounce, was forced out after a regrettable mishap.
While stopping to tie a pesky shoelace, Elmo was hit from the side by one of the many kids on bicycles who followed the race. His right toe was painfully bruised, the nail being torn off. Elmo struggled valiantly for a few yards, but had to surrender. He was picked up at the fourteen-mile mark.
Ghahate enjoyed a lead of 125 yards over Angier as the plodders hit Artesia and Long Beach Boulevard. More than 700 yards in the rear came Suhu and his playmate, Tsemptewa. Behind them trailed Andy Myra and Connie Mack Denver.
At Orange and Fifty-sixth Street, Angier overhauled Ghahate by dint of a terrific sprint. Neck and neck white man and redskin battled. At 2 P.M. sharp, an hour and a half after the start from the Press-Telegram Building, Ghahate finally yielded. That pace he had so cleverly set over the first ten miles began to tell on him. He was bogged down badly, slipping far back.
Angier Takes Lead.
For forty-seven precious minutes, Angier ran by himself, far in front of all rivals. Down Orange Avenue to Wardlow Road … over Wardlow to Walnut … down Walnut to Spring and across Spring to Bennett Avenue Angier fled. The Indian pack seemed far behind. Fans lined along the route were thunderstruck. It couldn’t be true, but it was. Angier was running the redskins into the ground.
Bennett Avenue brought Angier’s Waterloo. Starting six minutes behind Angier at the eighteen-mile mark, the mighty atom of Suhu burst forth like a comet on the loose after the twenty-mile mark was reached.
The killing pace, meanwhile, had begun to take its toll on Angier. After twenty miles, he slowed down to a walk. Aching muscles stopped his jog, while Suhu came up fresh as a high school sophomore. At 2:47, by this Dieges’ clock, Suhu raced past Angier. Old Bob did not even fight the challenge, his lips pursed as he walked along at snail’s pace while Suhu built up a comfortable lead and coasted in with plenty in reserve. Once he had recuperated from his walking spell, Angier came into his own and actually ran down Seventh Street, Temple and Ocean Boulevard faster than Suhu.
With police sirens shrieking, a huge throng gathered at the Chamber of Commerce Building on Ocean Boulevard roared a warm welcome to Suhu as he sprinted beautifully down the homestretch into the waiting arms of Coach Bert A Jamison. Spotting the finish about 300 yards away, Suhu gave the crowd a genuine thrill by kicking up a tremendous sprint. It looked like the finish of a 100-yard dash as Suhu roared past the finish.
Angier, as game a geezer as ever perspired through a marathoning afternoon, finished as brilliantly, only 2 minutes and 29 seconds behind Suhu. The winning time of 3 hours, 7 minutes, 16 seconds, while far from mediocre, was not exceptionally fast. Many optimists had picked one of the Indians to negotiate the distance in 2 hours, 40 minutes or thereabouts.
Finn Fights Way.
Then came that lion-hearted Finlander, 36-year-old Andy Myra of the San Francisco Olympic Club. He joined the first five at the ten-mile mark and fought every inch of the way to edge into third place.
Myra’s dramatic fight for third place might have been lost in the preponderance of interest in the Angier-Suhu duel, but it was no less spectacular. The Finn was up against four strong Indians—Denver, Ghahate, Tsemptewa and Smith—but he beat them all. Myra finished exactly six minutes behind Angier.
The San Francisco carpenter showed plenty of the old moxie when he came back to conquer every Indian but one. He was badly distressed in the first five miles with his stomach, the bane of all marathoners, but that did not discourage him. He fought off the diarrhea, coming back to defeat those Indians, one by one. Connie Mack Denver, Silas Ghahate, Howard Tsemptewa Escalalio and Jimmy Smith. Myra is a worthy defender of the glories perpetuated by the Kohlemainens, Nurmi, Ritola, Stenroos and the rest of that valiant legion.
+++++ +++++ +++++
On May 25, 1931, two days after Franklin Suhu of the Sherman Indian Institute came from behind to win the first Long Beach Marathon going away, Press-Telegram reporter Art Cohn followed up his race-day coverage by leading off his column, “On The Level,” with this item:
Bald Bob Angier, the venerable marathoner, had just gall0ped home into second place over the grueling stretch of 26 miles, 385 yards Saturday. Winded? Come again, brother. Bald Bob had enough left to pop off with a legitimate “beef.”
Spotting the writer near-by, Bald Bob sidled up, all of his 139 pounds trembling in excitement.
“You newspaper fellers have built up a fine ballyhoo case on the bitter struggles between white man and Indian in Southland marathons. That’s okay with me. There’s nothing wrong with it, because it’s a good gag. But, there’s more than that.
“Our Marathon Club has no peeve against the redman. But, to a man, we fight against the supported amateur. Our clubmen are self-supporting amateurs, most of us men with heavy family responsibilities.
“You talk and write of the Indians … and their intense, native love for running. Yet, what else have they to do? They are supported by the Government at Sherman Institute. They have no worries, nor responsibilities. Distance running is a part of their athletic program. It is no task for them to keep in perfect condition.
“Our Marathon Club runners love the sport immeasurably more. Many of us work until midnight before a big race. Ehret, our man who finished eighth, works all night in the stereotyping department of a Los Angeles newspaper. I am a clerk. Others are truckmen. Indian sacrifice? That gives me a laugh. We alone are the honest amateurs.”
To prove his statement, as if any proof was necessary, Bald Bob rambled second in the ten-mile marathon atLos Angelesyesterday. And nine of his comrades from the Marathon Club rambled with him.
At 36 years of age … 36 miles of competition in two days. It must be love. Or insanity.