Beijing, Aug 24: 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.