The Boston Marathon was canceled on Thursday for the first time in its 124-year history, officials announced, as the spread of the coronavirus made clear that earlier plans to postpone the race until September were too optimistic.
The race — the most prominent and prestigious marathon in the United States — has been held annually since 1897, even amid world wars, periods of domestic tension and in snow and rainstorms.
But with experts saying mass events remain a clear danger throughout the country as cases of Covid-19 continue to rise, the Boston Athletic Association and Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston announced the marathon would not take place in 2020 as a “traditional, one-day event,” even as other sports leagues have recently made plans to return to play. Organizers intend to hold a “virtual” marathon, with people running the 26.2 miles remotely.
The Boston Marathon, originally scheduled for April 20, was initially postponed in March and rescheduled for Sept. 14.But as the severity of the pandemic grew it became clear that September was not realistic for a race that regularly brings hundreds of thousands of people together.
“While our goal and our hope is to make progress in containing the virus and recovering our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14 or any time this year,” Mr. Walsh announced on Twitter.
There have been more than 5.6 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide. On Wednesday, the United States reached a grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths.
The pandemic has brought the sports world to a halt, and leagues coming back to play are largely doing so without fans to bring as few people together as possible.
The Boston Marathon has a field of 30,000 runners — the majority of whom qualify for the race by running fast enough to meet a standard for their age group — and a strong elite field that includes many international runners. Hundreds of thousands of fans cheer on the sides and thousands of volunteers ensure a smooth race.
The race, which follows a course from Boston’s western suburbs to its downtown, usually takes place on Patriots’ Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts celebrating the start of the Revolutionary War. It serves as one of the major civic events for Massachusetts and New England.
Other than the Olympic trials, it is the only major marathon in the country that most runners have to qualify for. Doing so is a major accomplishment for weekend warriors, and the athletic association does not allow runners to defer their entries for a year if they are injured. About 6,000 runners get into the race by committing to raise money for charity.
The race brings more than $200 million to the city.
The cancellation of the Boston race heightened uncertainty surrounding the fall road racing season. The London Marathon, another race among the six Abbott World Marathon Majors, was also postponed from its original run date of April 26 to Oct. 4. It is still on the calendar. The Berlin Marathon, scheduled for late September, will not take place on that date, though organizers have yet to announce a cancellation.
The 2021 Boston Marathon is scheduled for April 19.