Kenya's Wanjiru wins men's Olympic marathon
With a smile on his face and enough strength in his legs to sprint to the finish, Sammy Wanjiru won Kenya's first gold medal in the men's Olympic marathon in record time.
Wanjiru, 21, set a searing pace in the final athletic competition at the Beijing Games, obliterating the Olympic record with a time of two hours 6.32 minutes on Sunday morning.
The previous record of 2:09.21, owned by Portugal's Carlos Lopes, had stood since 1984.
"It feels good to make history here," said Wanjiru, who informed officials afterward that his name was misspelled as 'Wansiru' on the official results sheet.
"It feels good to make history for Kenya and win the gold." Wanjiru 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."
It was just the third full marathon run by Wanjiru, the world half-marathon champion, and the first Olympic gold in the event for Kenya — a nation defined in the sports world by its excellence in distance running.
"In Kenya, we have many medals," he said. "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.
No Canadians competed in the event.
Defending champion Stefano Baldini of Italy placed 12th in 2:13.25, despite nursing a tender thigh that doctors ordered him to rest for three days just prior to the Games.
"In the last 10 kilometres, it was unbelievable what the Africans were able to do under these conditions," Baldini said.
Pleasant conditions at outset
Runners were treated to pleasant, less humid conditions and a soft breeze at the outset, but the temperature rose from 21 C to 30 C by the time it concluded.
Most importantly, Beijing's notorious air quality was surprisingly good, leaving observers to wonder whether world record holder Haile Gebrselassie should have competed after all.
Gebrselassie, who set the world mark of 2:04:26 last September in Berlin, competed in the 10,000 metres at Beijing, but the legendary Ethiopian withdrew from the marathon because he feared the city's poor air quality would harm his health over the long haul.
Ninety-eight runners lined up at Tiananmen Square for the start of the race, which meandered through the streets of Beijing, past the fabled Forbidden City and historic Temple of Heaven before looping back to the square and through the city's financial district toward the stadium.
The 42-kilometre route was exposed but relatively flat, with a gradual incline of four kilometres over the first half and a gentle downward slope the rest of the way.
As the marathoners competed outside the Bird's Nest, the performers inside rehearsed for the closing ceremonies (CBC, 6 a.m. ET), much to the delight of fans eagerly awaiting the arrival of the marathoners.
Martin Lel of Kenya set a brisk pace over the initial 15 kilometres of the marathon, covering the distance in 44:36.
Lel posted the swiftest time this season in winning the London Marathon in 2:05.15.
Reigning world champion Luke Kibet, Lel'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 wilt 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.
With files from the Associated Press