Samuel Wanjiru (for some unexplained reason spelt Wansiru here in Beijing!) sizzled his way to the Olympic record in high temperatures today in Beijing.
Slicing just under 3 minutes off the second oldest men’s Athletics record (Bob Beamon’s 1968 Long Jump mark is the oldest), Kenyan Half Marathon World record holder Samuel Wanjiru took apart Carlos Lopes’ time of 2:09:21 which had won the Portuguese the 1984 Los Angeles title.
Wanjiru’s winning time of 2:06:32 was the result of a virtual gun to tape win (as part of the lead pack all the way) from the 21-year-old who has a PB of 2:05:24 from London this year. But what stood out about today’s performance was that while similar fast times have been run in major city races in cooler spring and autumn temperatures, today’s race unfolded in full sunshine with a temperature of 24 degrees at the gun which warmed rapidly throughout the race to a high of 30.
This was Kenya’s first ever Olympic marathon victory, and overall helped their athletics team equal their best ever number of Olympic titles, four, in one Olympic Games which had been achieved in Seoul 1988.
The race began at Tiananmen Square, and with less than 10km run, with Wanjiru sharing the pace with compatriot Martin Lel, the three time London and two-time New York winner, the leading pack had already been cut to just 8 principal players.
The third Kenyan Luke Kibet, the surprise World champion was also a member of this lead pack with Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga, two-time World champion Jaouad Gharib of Morocco, Eritrea’s Yared Asmerom and Yonas Kifle, and Spain’s Manuel Martinez.
The Spaniard didn’t last long but he was not the only one to suffer from the outrageous pace for the race, which was already on sub-2:07 pace, with Asmerom and then the World champion Kibet being dropped.
This meant that by 20km (59:10), with Merga sharing the pace making duties with Kifle, the group was now down to the 26-year-old Ethiopian and 30-year-old Eritrean, plus Wanjiru, Lel, and Gharib, who went together through the half marathon point in 1:02:34.
This half way pace was enough ultimately to kill off Kifle’s ambitions, as when he was dropped around 29km he fell back quickly and eventually finished 36th (2:20:23). Lel was equally feeling the speed and not long after the Eritrean’s demise the Kenyan number two was also saying good bye to his medal chances.
Gharib, the World champion from 2003 and 2004, was dropping on and off the back of the lead pack like a yo-yo throughout these stages. Just as you thought the Moroccan’s hopes had finally been kicked into touch, there he was back again challenging and looking strong.
In pursuit of the lead pack was Ethiopia’s Paris marathon winner Tsegay Kebebe who with Asmerom in tow, had at the half marathon point caught and passed the fast fading Kibet. The Ethiopian gradually also dropped the Eritrean and made his own solo chase to catch-up with the leaders.
So the order at 30km was Merga and Wanjiru pushing ahead (1:29:14) with Gharib, four seconds adrift but by the time Tsinghua University was reached (31km) the Moroccan was properly back on their heels.
At this point, Gharib looked confidently around him, noted they were well clear of anyone else, and a broad smile hit his face. A medal in his opinion at least was now a cert. Suddenly we realised he was stronger than his running had implied, and that it was going to take something very special to cut him away from his title ambitions.
35km was past in 1:44:37 with this trio still together, Gharib all the time one step or two behind. Kifle was now a distant fourth (1:28 behind), while Kebebe was 1:52 adrift.
But Wanjiru was only biding his time, and with exactly 1:49:30 on the clock he pounced. It was a kick of the highest magnitude, and it killed off Merga immediately. Gharib was also dropped but looked the strongest of the challengers, yet by 40km which Wanjiru passed in 1:59:54, he was 18 seconds behind and by the finish the gap had grown to 44.
Wanjiru crossed in 2:06:32, with Gharib second in 2:07:16. Merga’s legs were so heavy that he was passed for bronze by his fast finishing compatriot Kebede who took bronze in 2:10:00, with Merga 21 seconds adrift in fourth.
Lel hung onto some condition to close out fifth in 2:10:24, with Viktor Rothlin of Switzerland, the World Champs bronze medallist, in sixth (2:10:24), the first European home.
Defending champion Stefano Baldini of Italy, after recent injury problems finished 12th in 2:13:25.
Chris Turner for the IAAF