It was no surprise that Kenyans should take the top five places in the 20th Athens Classic Marathon on Sunday, but even by their own admission, they were shocked to be so far away from the course record of 2:11:07, set by Briton Bill Adcocks back in 1969.
Mark Saina, who won his first marathon in eight starts, in 2.18.20 said, "It's the toughest course I've ever run, and there was a headwind, but I think we started too fast.”
John Moiben, second in 2.18,45, concurred, and Elijah Korir, who was third in 2.18.56 said of Adcocks' time, "I just don't know how he ran that, I don't believe it. Maybe if we hadn't run so fast at the start (5k in 14.48), it would have been better, but going downhill in the second part is just as difficult after all the uphill, it would be better if the second half was flat.”
So the bad news for those intending to run this course in the Olympic Games in 2004 is that it's probably the toughest course in the world among the big city marathons, but good news for Adcocks, who was invited back to Athens this week by new sponsor, Alpha Bank.
Adcocks, 60 said, "That was my day of days, I only ran 19 seconds slower than my personal best, set on a completely flat course at Fukuoka (Japan), I had the impression on that day, I could have run up a mountain.”
Winner Saina only started running seriously four years ago, at the age of 28, when he realised that he could keep up in training with a colleague at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Bernard Lagat, who is an Olympic bronze medallist in the 1500 metres. “I'd run at school, but I was concentrating on my (sociology) studies, then I realised I could be a professional runner, but I preferred the marathon.”
Sonja Oberem of Germany also preferred the marathon to the triathlon, at which she was twice world and twice European senior champion. The German retained her women's title in 2.37.29.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF.
1 Mark Saina Kenya 2.18.20
2 John Moiben Kenya 2.18.45
3 Elijah Korir Kenya 2.18.56
1 Sonja Oberem Germany 2.37.29
2 Giorgia Abatzidou Greece 2.47.22
3 Viktoria Zueva Russia 2.49.24