Ten years after Stefano Baldini won the gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games, the Athens Marathon course record of the Italian was finally broken with the unheralded Kenyan Felix Kandie clocking 2:10:37 on Sunday (9).
Even more surprising was that Kandie achieved his time on a warm day, with temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius during the race.
Only the first 10 kilometres, which are run near the coast, are relatively flat in this classic race. In the small town of Nea Makri, where thousands of spectators lined the course, a tough uphill section begins with many ups and downs.
As soon as the first steep section was reached, runners from the big leading group started to fall back or drop out but eight athletes were still together in the leading pack at halfway, which was was passed in 1:05:52.
Shortly before the highest point of the course – almost 250 metres above sea level – came the decisive move from Kandie.
When the two pacemakers dropped out just after 30km, Kandie started to push hard. Only his compatriot Raymond Bett was able to follow him while fellow Kenyans Julius Korir and Josphat Chobei quickly lost ground.
With 12 kilometres to go and the course now descending towards Athens, it looked as if Bett was beaten. But the 2010 and 2012 Athens winner managed to close a gap before Kandie responded, kicking in a couple of quick kilometres and covering the 5km section from 30-35km in 14:52.
Bett threw in the towel shortly after the 35km mark while Kandie went on to run the next 5km even faster in 14:49 to secure his victory and course record.
“I felt strong and my body responded well after the halfway mark,” said the 28-year-old Kandie, whose previous best was a relatively modest 2:16:12. "Firstly, my goal was to make the podium but when I was in the lead with Raymond Bett, I did not fear him, I wanted to win."
Bett came home second in 2:12:34 while Chobei completed the all-Kenyan podium with 2:15:38 for third place.
There was late drama in the women’s race. After a half-marathon split of 1:20:23, three runners were still together at 35km: Kenya’s Naomi Maiyo and Nancy Rotich as well as Ethiopia’s Kidist Fiseha Tedla.
Rotich took the lead but with the 40km marker in sight, Maiyo came from behind and overtook her compatriot and went on to win in 2:41:06, with the 2013 champion Rotich second in 2:41:29.
Linah Chirchir overtook Fiseha Tedla in the closing stages to take third in 2:42:41 for another Kenyan clean sweep of the podium.
“This was the hardest road race I have run so far,” said the Kenyan winner. “But to be first in Athens is an inspiration for my future career.”
A record number of 13,000 runners entered the Athens Marathon, which is run on the original course of the 1896 Olympic Games. Athletes started in the town of Marathon and finished in the Panathinaikon Stadium in the heart of the capital.
Jorg Wenig (organisers) for the IAAF