Florian Oertel, the prominent TV sports commentator from the former GDR, had been so enthusiastic when he saw Waldemar Cierpinski take a second marathon Olympic gold medal when retaining his title at the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 that he made a now renowned comment:
“Men, fathers be courageous: Call your new born sons Waldemar today!”
It is unknown how many babies were called Waldemar on that 1 August 1980, but it is said that there were some. What we do know is that unfortunately there are no strong marathon runners among those Waldemars. But there is one with the name of Cierpinski. And this is no coincidence. Falk Cierpinski is Waldemar’s 30-year-old son.
Originally Falk Cierpinski had targetted the Olympic Marathon in Beijing. Although he was the fastest German marathon runner after the spring races he was not nominated since he had missed the A standard of 2:13. Instead of Beijing, Falk opted for the Berlin Marathon, where he came in ninth and improved to 2:13:30. This remained the fastest German marathon time this year and it was the best German male placing in the Berlin Marathon since 1990!
Coming from East Germany Waldemar Cierpinski had never been able to run the Berlin Marathon when he was an elite athlete. The most successful German male marathon runner had taken the Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976, clocking 2:09:55, which remained his personal best. With that time he still is the fifth fastest German runner ever.
Waldemar wrote sports history, when he defended his Olympic crown four years later in Moscow. The only other marathon runner who has achieved two Olympic golds is Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964).
For many years it did not look as if any of the three sons of Waldemar would become an elite runner.
Falk Cierpinski turned very late to the marathon. When he was in his early teens sport did not play a role in his life despite the success of his father and his mother as well – Marita Politz had been an 800m runner who participated in the 1972 Olympics and had a personal best of 1:59.9.
“There was no pressure at all from my parents to get us into sport or running. We were allowed to do what made us happy,” Falk says.
So as a school child he and his two brothers were singers at the boys’ choir in Halle. But at the age of 14, when his voice was breaking, the career in the boys’ choir came to a sudden end.
“Suddenly I had all my afternoons off. So I started mountain biking and running,” recalls Falk.
A school mate was doing triathlons. That was how he came into this sport and later on he started doing duathlon as well. In the duathlon Falk was very successful as a youngster. In 1998, he took the European Junior Duathlon Championship and was second in the World Junior Championships.
While he continued to be successful in the duathlon with a German title and a fourth place in the European Championships in 2005, he started dreaming of taking part in the Olympic Games. But in the triathlon Falk was not quite as strong as in the duathlon.
“Qualifying for the Olympics as a triathlete would have been extremely difficult. I saw much better chances in the marathon. Additionally it was running which I always liked most during the duathlons or triathlons,” explains Falk.
When the triathlon season was over in 2006 he experimented and ran a marathon for the first time. He chose a venue which could hardly have been further away from his home in Halle.
“A Cierpinski can not simply go and run a marathon in Germany. That is why I went for Australia for my first one,” explains Falk. ‘Undercover’ and without specific training he finished fourth in the Sydney Marathon with 2:24:47. Incidentally, Irina Mikitenko was just four seconds slower in her debut in Berlin in 2007. But for Falk it was nothing more than a first test. It was more important that he found out that he had fun running the marathon and that he saw quite some potential for the future.
Falk progressed in his next races. He ran 2:21:26 in a very warm Vienna Marathon in 2007, then clocked 2:19:06 in Berlin in the same year and improved to 2:15:48 in Hamburg this April before he achieved 2:13:30 in Berlin in September.
Transforming triathlete to a marathon runner
His father Waldemar, who had already coached him as a triathlete, chose a very careful approach to transform Falk from a triathlete to a marathon runner. The double Olympic champion explains that muscles of a triathlete are developed differently than those of a marathon runner. It took some time, but now he sees the transformation process as almost completed.
While last year Falk had not run more than 150km per week this year the training load was increased to almost 200.
“After his race in Hamburg we started working more on speed work for shorter distances. He was able to run faster training sessions than before,” explains Waldemar, who had introduced high altitude training in summer 2007.
“Now Falk has got a good basis on which we can build,” says 58-year-old Waldemar. “If there are no injuries hampering the progress then Falk could increase his training load by another 25 percent in 2009.”
With this the father expects his son to be able to run around 2:12 next year. But with high temperatures likely in the World Championships’ race in Berlin next August it may well be impossible for him to reach that goal in this event. The Cierpinskis’ have not yet decided if a spring marathon will be on the agenda in 2009.
In the long term Waldemar thinks that his son might be able to break the family record. “I would not put it past him to run faster than me on day.” Already now they are the holders of the unofficial Father-Son-World-Record with a joint time of 4:23:25. Falk will almost certainly further improve and his Olympic dream is still very much alive with London 2012 coming up.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF