The Avenue of Maria Cristina in Barcelona, within the Montjuïc fair site, has Olympic pedigree. Not only because it is the natural entrance for the many sporting facilities on Montjuïc, but also because it is the starting or finishing line, or a landmark on the route of many popular athletic events held in the city.
Let’s look at them: Cursa de la Dona, Cursa de la Mercè, Barcelona Marathon, Cursa d’El Corte Inglés, Cursa de l’Amistat, Cursa Jean Bouin… In most of these competitions, the palaces of Fira de Barcelona play a role as refreshment areas or logistical support, or as spaces for exhibiting sports material.
Each of these races have their own history and style, often linked to the spirit of a city which has always responded enthusiastically to sport and good causes such as women’s tireless fight against breast cancer (Carrera de la Mujer). It was the initiative of a shoemaker of Sants, an athlete and manufacturer of running shoes, Francesc Mates, that led him to invent a race for competing with friends in 1980, with a flower as the prize. The Cursa de la Mercè is 40 years old and has grown in parallel with the increasing vitality of Barcelona’s main festivity. The Barcelona Marathon really began in Palafrugell in 1978, and only transferred to Barcelona twelve years later before becoming one of the most outstanding races held in Europe. The race organized by El Corte Inglés was also founded at the end of the 1970s, and in 1994 it broke the Guinness record for participation, with 109,400 runners taking part. Since then, it has remained one of the most popular races.
The oldest of all these races, with especially close links to the sporting and participatory culture of the city, is the Jean Bouin which is held on Sunday 26th November. It is the oldest in Barcelona, but also the oldest in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe.
It was founded in 1920 through the efforts of a group of journalists who were keen athletics fans, an activity that has always been a synonym of modernity in Barcelona. Created in imitation of the Grand Prix Lemonnier in Paris, it was named after Jean Bouin as a homage to the French long-distance runner born in Marseille in 1888 who was killed on the front in the First World War in 1914 after winning at the Stockholm Olympics and having broken several world records.
We should add, for the sake of curiosity, that the first edition was run between Esplugues de Llobregat and the Ciutadella Park, with 48 athletes taking part, 45 of whom crossed the finish line. Today, the organizers consider that the 10,000 runners taking part are an optimal number. Since 1926 the race has been organized by the newspaper Mundo Deportivo and since 1973 Montjuïc has been both the starting line and the finishing line.
Women did not compete until 1947, and the Women’s Section of the Falange came to ban women from taking part between 1954 and 1962. Now there are thousands of women who take part in the Jean Bouin and all the different public athletics events. 31,000, to be specific, in the Women’s Race, or Carrera de la Mujer.