Top marathon countries

What country’s runners have set the most world records in the marathon? The top two have nineteen and eighteen, respectively. The third place country has eight. If you can guess these three countries, you are a true student of marathoning.

I did the two-hour drive to Washington State University in Pullman and got a day pass to the Library of Academic and Scholarly Research. I wanted the most reliable and accurate sources for compiling my list.marathon investigator

I spent several hours conducting research and as I left, I chatted with a librarian and mentioned the work I’d done. She told me I didn’t need to go to a library because that sort of info is easy to get on the internet.

Many times I’ve presented myself awards for outstanding achievement. However, this move was noteworthy for the opposite reason. I could have sat at my home computer to do this. Since I recognize and promote myself when I do something well, I figured it’s only fair that I do the same when I’m not outstanding, so I put on a dunce cap and restricted myself to the corner for one hour.Marathon dunce

Okay, now the results. Nine countries had a runner set a world record once, so for brevity, I list only countries with multiple world record performances.

*             Men                                      Women                              Combined

  • United Kingdom – 12            United States – 12                 United States – 19
  • Japan – 7                              Norway – 6                            United Kingdom – 18
  • United States – 7                  United Kingdom – 6               Japan – 8
  • Ethiopia – 5                           West Germany – 5                Kenya – 7
  • Kenya – 4                              France – 3                             Norway – 6
  • Australia – 3                          Kenya – 3                              Ethiopia – 5
  • Sweden – 2                                  *                                      France – 3

You may wonder why African countries aren’t in the top three since the last six men’s world records have been set by either a Kenyan or Ethiopian runner. This is because their successes have occurred in recent years whereas the U.S. and British runners set many of their records in the early days of marathoning.

If you’d like to check out the details, you can read about the marathon world record progression on Wikipedia. As well, an excellent infographic can be found at

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