17 APR 2008 General News

Belgrade Marathon’s torch burns bright with city backing

Mihalic hands the flame to Jevtic in the Park in front of Belgrade's City Hall (LOC)Mihalic hands the flame to Jevtic in the Park in front of Belgrade's City Hall (LOC) © Copyright

The torch relay was greeted by cheering crowds in Belgrade this week, prior to the annual marathon on Saturday. No, not that torch! This one also came from Greece, not from Olympia, but from the home of the marathon, ie the town of Marathon itself.

This torch is an initiative of the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) and Makis Asimakopoulos, new director of the Athens Classic Marathon, which takes place in November. “We want to emphasise the origins of the marathon race, and give a new dimension to our colleagues’ marathon races abroad,” said Asimakopoulos.

Neighbouring Belgrade was the first recipient in Europe – Xiamen in China was the first, for the AIMS annual congress. The flame was flown from Athens to Nikola Tesla Airport, 20 kilometres outside Belgrade, and relayed into the city, where citizens of the Serbian capital turned out in force to see last year’s Belgrade women’s winner, Olivera Jevtic, and 1956 Olympic silver medallist – and former winner of the Athens Marathon – Franjo Mihalic, now 87-years-old, deliver it to the City Hall.

Saturday’s Belgrade Banca Intesa Marathon (19 April) has reached its 21st edition thanks to the tenacity and diplomacy of race director, Dejan Nikolic and close colleague, Alexander Marinkovic, and new acting mayor, Zoran Alimpic threw Saturday’s race a lifeline last week, when he assured city backing for the first time in a decade.

Principal contenders in the men’s race, chasing the course record of 2:10:54 by Japhet Kosgei two years ago are Kenyan colleagues, Joseph Mbithi and Jonathan Kipsaina, from the same training group as last week’s dominant London winner, Martin Lel. Two other Kenyans making their marathon debut, Bernard Ngetich and Matthew Bungei are expected to do well. And former local junior star, and winner of the half-marathon here, Janko Bensa returns from exile in the USA for his first marathon on home soil.

Jevtic, who injured herself badly when winning the marathon last year, has opted for the ‘half’ this time which should leave a straight fight between Eunice Chelagat of Kenya and Tatiana Perepelkina of Russia in the women’s marathon.

Pat Butcher for the IAAF