Josephat Ngetich en route to his Athens Marathon victory (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
It was left to the runners in the Athens Classic Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, to battle the elements instead. Josephat Kipkirui Ngetich proved the best of the inheritors of the legend of Phillipides. On one of the toughest courses in the world, the 23-year-old, in only his second marathon improved his personal best by over three minutes, to win in 2:13:44, the second fastest time in the race’s 26 year history.
Ngetich had dropped 25 metres behind the leaders, colleague Edwin Kipchom and Ethiopian Alemayehu Ameta after 28 kilometres, but he rallied shortly afterwards, and by 35k was engaged in a head to head with Ameta, with Kipchom 100 metres behind.
But the Ethiopian cracked completely in the last five kilometres. Kipchom came past to finish second in 2:14:18, which would still have been a course record on the current configuration prior to last year. A third Kenyan, Pius Mutuku was third in 2:14:39, and Ameta was fourth in 2:14:51.
At least the torrential early morning rain relented to a steady downpour for the start and the first hour, and the sun even broke through as Ngetich broke away from his final opponent.
Pointing to his thin woolly hat, Ngetich said, “At least it kept me cool when the sun came out. I thought I could win at 35k. The rain wasn’t really a problem, but the course is tough.”
Not ‘arf’, as they say in south London. After a flat start, which takes the runners round the tomb of the Athenian soldiers who died in the celebrated battle in 490 BCE, the road from Marathon to Athens climbs from 10k to 31k, which is to say, a half-marathon uphill, before the gentle decline into the city, with the finish in the atmospheric Panathenaiko, the marble stadium built for the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896.
Patience pays for Ozaki
The runners are usually in no state to appreciate either scenery on the way, or the exotic stadium at the finish. But Akemi Ozaki of Japan was overjoyed to have won the women’s race on what she called, “this historic course”.
Ozaki ran a cannier race than even Ngetich. She tracked the leading trio of Natalia Volgina of Russia, Sviatlana Kouhan of Belarus, and Ethiopian Eshetu Degefa through halfway before dropping away at 30k. “They put on a sprint, but I decided it was wiser to run at a steady pace,” she said after picking up the winner’s trophy.
It certainly paid off, she was back with the leaders within two kilometres, broke away with Degefa at 35k, and went away from the Ethiopian with three kilometres to run. “I was a little worried at first, because the surface was really slippery with the rain. But when I got to 39k, I said to myself, now is the time to really run”.
Ozaki, 32, won in 2:39:56, Degefa was second in 2:40:32, and Kouhan third in 2:40:54.
Next year’s event promises to be even more special than Ozaki already felt. The year 2010 is the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, a little skirmish described by many historians as the most crucial event in European history. But it is also an opportunity for every marathon runner to come and pay their respects to the place (and the time) where their event truly began. But you’d better be sharp, because entries will be limited.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
Leading Results –
1. Josephat K Ngetich, KEN 2.13.44
2. Edwin Kipchom, KEN 2.14.18
3. Pius Mutuku, KEN 2.14.39
4. Alemayehu Ameta, ETH 2.14.51
5. Philemon Rotich, KEN 2.16.14
6. Michael Chemchir, KEN 2.16.37
7. Masaru Takamizawa, JPN 2.17.24
8. Emmanuel Tirop, KEN 2.19.02
9. John Maluni, KEN 2.19.30
10. Michael Koronei, KEN 2.21.49
1. Akemi Ozaki, JPN 2.39.56
2. Eshetu Degefa, ETH 2.40.32
3. Sviatlana Kouhan, BLR 2.40.54
4. Natalia Volgina, RUS 2.41.48
5. Georgia Ampatzidou, GRE 2.44.23
6. Magdalini Gazea, GRE 2.44.28