Jonathon Kipkorir (KEN) - Athens Classic Marathon, 2010 (Bruce Wodder) © Copyright
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Mota and Hill reflect on past triumphs; Kenyans, Russians and Japanese favourites for Sunday - Athens Classic Marathon, PREVIEW

If Jonathon Kipkorir, or any of the lesser lights running the Athens Classic Marathon on Sunday morning (31) needs any tips on how to approach one of the toughest courses in the world, they don’t have to go very far for advice.

The Athens Classic Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

This year is the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, the little joust whose re-telling gave rise to the race itself and, in passing may just have saved democracy for the western world. The Greeks understandably – in need of some good news in these economically straightened times – have gone to town on it.

The cast list (in best alphabetical order) includes Abel Anton of Spain, Italian Stefano Baldini, Joan Benoit of the USA, Constantina Dita of Romania, Briton Ron Hill, Rosa Mota of Portugal, and Kathrine Switzer of the US, who between them won four Olympic, three world, and six European titles in the marathon, as well as breaching the male bastion in Boston over 40 years ago.

So if they can’t provide a word of warning on what to do about a course that begins with a flat 10 kilometres out of the town of Marathon itself, then rises 21k, before a steady 11k decline into Athens, and the haven of the 1896 Olympic Stadium, then no one can help the intrepid 12,500 who will start at 0900hrs Sunday.

Mota and Hill were the first on the scene yesterday (Thursday), the latter winning a lot of kudos for bringing the official athletes’ bag he was issued here in Athens when he won his Euro title in1969. Hill described how winning here, after failing in two Olympic Games unlocked his potential, and he went on to break the Boston record by three minutes, and win the Commonwealth Games, while setting a European best of 2:09:28, “without pacemakers, or a timing car, or ever getting a massage”. And, it should be added, wearing shoes whose sole was so thin it must have been like running barefoot.

Mota’s debut at the distance was at the ‘Europeans’ here in 1982, the first international women’s Marathon championship. She competed initially in the 3000 metres, up ‘til then the longest championship distance for women. “The furthest I’d ever run (in training) was 15 kilometres,” she said yesterday. “I just came to participate, I didn’t expect to win, I didn’t think I was strong enough.”

“But it was the first marathon championship for women, it was in the place of the first Olympics, with all the history. When I entered that stadium, it was like a dream. Even when I go now, I get….” and she strokes her arm, indicating goose pimples.

MEN – Kenya all the way

Race favourite Kipkorir of Kenya listened intently to the two veterans at the press conference, but even beforehand he was aware of the task in hand. Kipkorir, who ran 2:07:31 in Paris last year, said, “I heard it’s a tough course. But when I heard about the history, I asked my manager to send me here for this fantastic race."

"The organisers would like us the go for the course record (Baldini’s gold medal 2:10:55 in 2004), and if the weather is good, then maybe we can go out in 65-66(mins, for halfway). I know I’m favourite, but anyone who can run 2:10 is a potential winner”.

Cue colleague Jacob Yator, who ran a personal best 2.09.02 in winning in Enschede, Netherlands last year. He said, “I think 65 - 65.20 is a good pace for a tough course. Kipkorir is favourite, but I’m in really good shape”.

Add four other colleagues who are under or just over 2:10, and Paul Lekuraa, who set the race (as opposed to the course) record of 2:12:42 in 2008, and the 28th edition of this revived Athens Classic Marathon could be on the way to matching the legend which spawned it.

WOMEN – Japan vs Russia

The Russians, Irina Permitina and Olga Glok would do well to beware of Eri Hayakawa of Japan in the women’s race. Permitina won bronze in the European Champs in 2006, and Glok won in Prague last year.

If the Oracle in Delphi was still in business, she might point out that Japanese have won here in the last two years, and that Hayakawa, in one of her first marathons passed the Russian pair, Alevtina and Albina Ivanova (no relation) in the final kilometres in Honolulu a half dozen years ago, to win in 2:31:57, an excellent time in the high humidity which always prevails in Hawaii.

In contrast, this is the time of year in Athens when the weather becomes unpredictable. The streets were awash two nights ago after a thunderstorm, but the race day forecast is for dry conditions, with temperatures of around 13C at the start, rising towards a high of 18C.

The once-in-a-dozen-lifetimes anniversary has quadrupled the marathon field, with close to 50% of entrants coming from abroad. With the shorter events, there will be over 20,000 runners finishing in the striking Panathenaiko, the old marble stadium created on ancient lines for the inaugural modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Pat Butcher for the IAAF