The 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon has been a long time coming. But it only took a little over two hours for Paul Bett and Rasa Drazdauskaite to unravel a surprise for their opponents in the Athens Classic Marathon on Sunday morning (31).
Both set new race records in an event which was born out of legends surrounding that ancient battle.
The Athens Classic Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Drazdauskaite of Lithuania is a world class runner, but since she was competing in the concurrent World Military Championships, she was not listed among the elite runners. But Master Sergeant Drazdauskaite blew her cover from the opening steps of the race in Marathon, when she shot into the lead, and was never headed.
The 29-year-old went further and further ahead on a bright sunny morning, and shattered the race record by over two minutes, when she turned into the Panethenaiko, the atmospheric marble stadium built for the 1896 Olympics in Athens, and won in 2:31:06.
The previous record was 2:33:19, by Svetlana Ponomarenko of Russia in 2007. And today’s runner up was also a Russian, Olga Glok , who had been one of the pre-race favourites, but finished close to three minutes down, in 2:33:51. Svitlana Stanko of Ukraine was third, in 2:38:59.
Drazdauskaite has run a half dozen marathons, but this was undoubtedly her best. Her fastest time, 2:30:29, came in Frankfurt exactly a year ago. But this Marathon to Athens course, which has a relentless uphill section of close to 21k (half the distance) is reckoned to be the hardest of the world’s famous marathons, contributing, by general consensus, to adding four minutes to a marathoner’s potential time on a flatter course.
For example, Abel Anton of Spain, one of the celebrated guests for the anniversary of the ‘Battle’ won the World title here in 1997, in 2:13:16, whereas his best is 2:07:57 in London the following year. Stefano Baldini of Italy, who won the Olympic title here in 2004, in a course record (as opposed to race record) 2:10:54, said he cycled the course the following year, “and it was harder by bike. I said to myself, how did I run 2:10:54 on this course, and in summer too?”
The temperature for the 0900 start in Marathon was around 13C, but the bright sunshine soon started to worry Drazdauskaite. “The first 10k was very hot, and I started to get very worried. But someone gave me a cap, and I was very thankful.”
“I wanted to run Frankfurt again (also today), but the Army said I had to run here, and I’m glad now. I thought I had a chance of winning, but I’m so happy to win this special race, with all the history.”
Bett, 26, had not been one of the pre-men’s race favourites, but he was always in the leading group, which were paced through a 65.49 ‘half,’ in an attempt to break Baldini’s record. But when the pacemakers dropped out, so did the pace. The group slowed in the mounting temperature, made hotter than the 17C at the end by the glaring sunshine.
Bett dropped the last of his opponents, pre-race favourite, colleague Jonathon Kipkorir at 37k, and ran out the winner in 2:12:40, shaving two seconds from the two-year old race record of another compatriot, Paul Lekuraa.
“I didn’t expect to win,” said Bett,”but you never know. It was very hot and very tough, and there was a lot of competition. I say to God, thank you for giving me the strength.”
Bett too should take a lot of assurance from this victory, just half a minute slower than his fastest, 2:11:32, which came in Eindhoven, Netherlands last year. Kipkorir finished second in 2:14:05, and another Kenyan, Edwin Kimutai was third in 2:15:21.
But the pace and course proved the undoing of several of their colleagues, a half dozen of whom were still with the lead trio, all well clear in a group at 30k. Henryk Szost and Radoslav Gardzielewski of Poland were over two minutes down at halfway, but began to make inroads ten kilometres later.
“We caught the first Kenyan at 35k,” said Szost, “and then we passed them one by one”. Szost finished fourth in 2:15:28, with his colleague fifth in 2:15:45.
1 Raymond BETT KEN 2:12:40
2 Jonathon KIPKORIR KEN 2:14:05
3 Edwin KIMUTAI KEN 2:15:21
4 Henryk SZOST KEN 2:15:28
5 R GARDZIELEWSKI POL 2:15:45
6 Francesco BONA ITA 2:16:49
7 Robert MWANGI KEN 2:17:04
8 Michal KAZMAREK POL 2:17:19
1 Rasa DRAZDAUSKAITE LTU 2:31:06
2 Olga GLOK RUS 2:33:51
3 Svitlana STANKO UKR 2:38:59
4 Eri HAYAKAWA JPN 2:40:25
5 Kefala KONSTANTINA GRE 2:40:36
6 Irina MASHKANTSEVA RUS 2:41:04