Posted by: Joe English | August 24, 2008

Olympics: Wanjiru wins marathon gold in new Olympic Record

Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru wins Beijing Olympic Marathon

Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru wins Beijing Olympic Marathon

BEIJING -Sammy Wanjiru did what he does best: he ran a scorching pace from wire to wire, setting a new Olympic Record, as he won the Olympic Marathon in Beijing.

Wanjiru’s time of 2:06:32 broke the Olympic Record by almost three minutes. The time was that much more impressive with heat that topped out at 86 degrees and high humidity. The previous record of 2:09.21, owned by Portugal’s Carlos Lopes, had stood since 1984.

In winning the race, the young Kenyan half-marathon world record holder proved that he is a champion that is going to be with us for a long time.

“It feels good to make history for Kenya and win the gold,” Wanjiru said after the race. He pulled away from Moroccan contender Jaouad Gharib with 15 minutes remaining, and entered the National Stadium unchallenged and to a standing ovation.

The jubiliant Kenyan raised his arms in triumph, and, with the crowd cheering him on, proceeded to sprint around the track and break the tape in record time.

“I had to push the pace to tire the other runners,” Wanjiru said. “I had to push the pace because my body gets tired in the heat when I slow down.”

Wanjiru won the Olympic Marathon in only his third race at the full marathon distance. His debut came just last December when he won the Fukoka Marathon in Japan. His second race came last April where he finished third at the London Marathon in one of the fastest fields ever in a marathon.

The 21-year old Kenyan set the half-marathon record twice last year prior to jumping up to the full marathon distance.

Martin Lel of Kenya set a brisk pace over the initial 15 kilometres of the marathon, covering the distance in 44:36. Lel has run the fastest time this year in winning the London Marathon in 2:05.15.

Reigning world champion Luke Kibet, Lel’s and Wanjiru’s teammate and a late replacement for injured Robert Cheruiyot, stuck with the chase group before being forced off the course with stomach cramps at 1:25.46.

Lel began to slow by the halfway mark and relinquished the lead to Wanjiru and Merga, who ran side-by-side with Gharib trailing by 0.04 seconds.

Wanjiru pulled ahead of Merga by two strides at the 1:45.00 mark, with Gharib trailing by 0.01 and Eritrea’s Yonas Kifle lurking just 1.28 back.

Wanjiru ran alone in the final miles and then into the Bird’s Nest where 91,000 fans cheered his arrival.

This was suprisingly only the first Olympic gold in the marathon for Kenya — a nation defined in the sports world by its excellence in distance running.

“In Kenya, we have many medals,” said Wanjiru. “But I’m glad I have this one.”

Gharib, a two-time world champion, took the silver medal in 2:07.16, and Tsegay Kebede streaked past a spent Deriba Merga, his elder Ethiopian teammate, with 200 metres left to claim the bronze in 2:10.00.

Americans Dathan Reitzenhein and Ryan Hall finished ninth and tenth respectively in the packed field of the world’s best marathon runners.

World record holder Haille Gebrselassie did not compete in the marathon in Beijing due to concerns over air quality. He opted to run the 10,000M instead, finishing sixth.

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