When World Marathon record holder Paul Tergat travelled to Athens last summer he had only one target: he wanted to win the Olympic gold, the medal he had missed at two previous occasions when he came second to Haile Gebrselassie in the 10,000 metres in Atlanta and Sydney. When he lined up with all the other favourites on August 29, the last day of the 2004 Olympics, at 6 pm., he was physically and mentally ready for the 42.195 kilometres to come.
But it wasn’t to be. After 30 kilometres, Tergat missed his pre-prepared drinks bottle, so he had to take the water which the organisers supplied. And this water was very cold. It did not even take two minutes before his stomach started cramping. That was the end of his dream. But he didn’t drop out. He entered Panathinaikon Stadium in tenth position.
Jürg Wirz, author of the book “Paul Tergat – Running to the Limit” which will be out in February – recently interviewed Tergat exclusively for the IAAF internet.
How did you overcome the Athens’ disappointment?
“Honestly, I was stunned. I sacrificed so much for my last Olympic opportunity. In the race it was hard to accept what happened. I mean, if you are not well prepared, if other competitors are stronger than you, you have to accept. If you run your heart out and still you cannot make it, that’s okay.
But it was in fact such a stupid accident that robbed me of my fair chance. I didn’t want to think of dropping out. I wanted to finish. Never in my whole career have I dropped out from a race. Even if I was really disturbed mentally, I knew I am going to finish. I was not afraid to lose.
I am a strong believer that a man is not only measured by his performances but also by his achievements. Finishing the race was a big achievement for me and helped me to overcome the big disappointment. I accepted the outcome. This is sport, it is not the whole life. As an athlete, I am happy because I have competed on a high level for quiet some time. I appreciate what God has given me. And a bad performance is always a new challenge.”
How is the training going? Did you mange to leave the Olympics completely behind?
“What I can say (is that) I am fresh in my mind and I need to win a marathon now. My preparation for London is going on extremely well. I am in good health, no injury. I started very well with some cross-country races and I feel that I am in the right direction for the London Marathon. I am still doing my training in a group. Compared with the preparation for the Olympics or my World record in Berlin when I was going for a long run between 30 and 38 kilometres – once even 45 – every week I cut the long runs a little. I am sure we are on the way to be in very good shape.”
London looks set to be the best marathon ever - with the two fastest men in the history of marathon, yourself and Sammy Korir, the two Olympic champions, Stefano Baldini (Athens) and Gezahegne Abera (Sydney), the reigning World champion, Jaoaud Gharib, all the London winners from Antonio Pinto (2000) to Evans Rutto (2004) and even your long-time rival Haile Gebrselassie. What are your thoughts about the line-up?
“You are right. There is no other marathon, maybe apart from Olympics or World championships which can bring together the class of athletes we are going to meet in London. For me it is a big honour competing with the best the world has to offer. I know they are all experienced athletes, they are all professional athletes and they know exactly what they are going for.”
”I am also not leaving anything to chance. That’s why I am putting everything together now and make sure that I will be ready for the day. I have been able to compete with the top athletes for many years and I feel privileged to be able to run again shoulder to shoulder with the greatest long distance runners the world has to offer this year in London.”
Do you look at the London race as a kind of revenge for Athens?
“No, no. I never go to a race and think about revenge. Every race is a new challenge, a new chance. I always go to a competition to make sure that I run the best I can, the best of my abilities. I always try to give my best.”
Do you expect a World record pace with so many tough guys in the race?
“When there are so many strong athletes coming together, it is very difficult to have a very fast race. Usually the time comes when everybody forgets about a fast time and starts thinking about how to win the race. And often the people who are putting in a surprise are the ones who are not ranked or rated anywhere.
The thing is: If the pacemakers will not be able to push the race, people will sit down and watch each other. And when you lose the pace on the first five kilometres it is almost impossible to make up what you have lost. But if the pacemakers are going to do a good job, I am sure everybody will follow them. So the possibility of running fast is very high.”
You are five times World champion in Cross Country, two times in Half Marathon, you broke World records on the track and on the road – how long do you want to continue your career?
“At the moment the fire is still burning. I still want to compete in some more city marathons. I want to win more marathons and run another fast time. For those who have seen the Olympic Marathon and think my time might be over, I say: don’t write me off!”
Jürg Wirz for the IAAF