Keizo Yamada, who won the 1953 Boston Marathon and last ran the race in 2009, died of natural causes on April 2, his wife said Thursday. He was 92.
Yamada, who was born in Akita Prefecture in 1927, spent the war years as a youth in Manchuria and after being repatriated competed for Japan in its first postwar Olympics, the 1952 Helsinki Games.
His finishing time of 2 hours, 18 minutes and 51 seconds in Boston was considered the world's fastest marathon at the time until it was found the course failed to meet the standard distance. His triumph was the subject of the Japanese movie "Shinzo Yaburi no Oka" ("Heartbreak Hill").
"His victory during the recovery period after the war energized the Japanese people," two-time Boston Marathon champion Toshihiko Seko said in a statement. "It's an honor to have won the same race as Mr. Yamada."
After retiring from competition, Yamada continued running marathons and took part in the Boston Marathon, running in 15 straight until his final one in 2009. That year, Yamada, who ran roughly 340 full marathons in his career, announced he would run no more.
Yuki Kawauchi, who won in Boston in 2018, also paid tribute to Yamada.
"He was a giant among Japanese legends. Despite being an elite runner, he devoted his life to promoting the marathon," Kawauchi said.
The 33-year-old Kawauchi, who has competed in more than 100 full marathons, did so for most of his career while serving as a civil servant in Saitama Prefecture, earning him the nickname "citizen runner."
"Mr. Yamada initiated the citizens' marathon boom with his activities throughout the nation," Kawauchi said. "One of my targets is to run in 340 marathons by my 50th birthday."