22 NOV 1997 General News

Prince Albert Proud of first Monaco Marathon

P>MONTE CARLO, MonacoA People's Race backed by a Prince would be an apt description of the first ever Monaco Marathon which starts tomorrow morning at 9:30. Hereditary Prince Albert, Honorary President of the International Athletic Foundation (IAF), said last night at the 1997 World Athletics Gala: "With the International Amateur Athletic Federation now firmly established in Monaco and our annual Herculis athletics Grand Prix meeting chosen to be part of the new IAAF Golden League I feel that we are now a home for athletics. For this reason I am happy that we will be organising our first ever marathon and particularly proud that it will be also the first to cross three countries."

So popular was the idea of this marathon, conceived as part of the celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the Grimaldi dynasty in the Principality, that the maximum number of participants for reasons of safety - 2,500 - were quick to sign up. Although the majority of runners are enthusiasts - there are some elite athletes taking part, namely Ezekiel Bitok of Kenya who finished second in last year's Boston Marathon (his best is 2:09:26), and Ahmed Salah of Djibouti, one of the most colourful road runners still active. Now 40 years old - Salah won his nation's first ever Olympic medal in 1988 by finishing third and although his best for the distance, 2:07:07, was achieved that same year he is still a tough competitor, as shown by his victory at this year's Vienna Marathon.

But all the runners will need to be tough to survive a demanding, undulating course that begins in front of the office of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), carries on to the French city of Menton before crossing the border into Italy. Appropriately, the runners reach the "turn-around" point of the 42.195 km race in the region of Grimaldi, before returning to Monaco, where they finish in the Stade Louis II Stadium - venue of the Herculis meeting and home of the reigning French Division 1 soccer champions.

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