Hillary Yego produced a major surprise by taking the Athens Classic Marathon on his debut at the distance. In warm weather with temperatures soaring to well over 20 Celsius the Kenyan, little known on the international scene, ran 2:13:59 on the tough original course, leading from the town of Marathon to the Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens. Fellow Kenyans Dickson Cheruiyot (2:14:40) and David Rutoh (2:14:47) took second and third. The defending champion Raymond Bett (Kenya) didn’t live up to his own pre-race expectations and dropped out shortly after halfway because of stomach problems.
Joan Rotich completed a Kenyan double, leading from the start and crossing the line in the old Olympic Stadium in 2:41:38. Svitlana Stanko of Ukraine was runner-up in 2:42:03 and Magda Gazea gave the home fans plenty to celebrate with a fine run for third place in 2:46:07.
While the course record remained intact, the organisers could reflect on record entries with 11,000 taking part in the 31st Athens Classic Marathon. It was definitely a day when running took centre stage in the Greek capital with more than 30,000 participants entered in a variety of events.
Time and again marathons produce surprises. A course such as Athens makes predicting outcomes a tricky business, even in a country where where soothsayers have been performing that role since ancient times: who would have predicted in 2004 that Stefano Baldini (Italy) and Mizuki Noguchi (Japan) would have won Olympic gold? Today the tough course and difficult weather conditions made it truly a long, hard road for all.
Conditions were deceptive for the first few kilometres with the temperature around 15 degrees Celsius. As soon as the sun broke through the clouds, the heat and humidity rose. The leading men went through 10 k in 31:01, on course for breaking 2:11 which would have put Baldini’s course record of 2:10:55 under pressure. That had been the declared target of the defending champion and event record holder (2:11:35), Raymond Bett of Kenya.
The pace slowed en route to halfway, reached by a group of ten runners in 66:48. Shortly afterwards Raymond Bett dropped out because of stomach problems. With more hills on the way to the highest point of the course at 32.5k, the numbers who found going too tough grew.
The lead group was reduced to a trio once the descent into Athens began: Yego, Cheruiyot and Rutoh. With 5k to go Rutoh was dropped, then Yego made the decisive move just before the 40k mark.
“This was my first marathon. And this is of course a perfect start for me. I am very happy, but it was very tough. The course is very hill and when it finally sloped down into Athens it was getting very hot and humid,”said 27 year-old winner Hillary Yego, who comes from Eldoret and trains with experienced marathon runners like Wilson Kibet and Sammy Kitwara. “They gave me good advice during the training, but also for the race.”
In contrast to the men’s race, one woman took the initiative from the start. Joan Rotich went to the front and quickly built a big lead. When she passed 15 k in 54:10 minutes, the Kenyan was almost two and a half minutes ahead of Ukraine’s Svitlana Stanko. Rotich began to struggle on the hills and Stanko sensed her chance, cutting back the lead. Rotich had established too great an advantage, however, and Stanko crossed the finish line 25 seconds behind.
“I had hoped to run 2:32. And I was on course for that until 15 k. But then it got too tough,” said 25 year-old Rotich, who has a personal best of 2:33:56. “The Athens Marathon is a special race, so I am very happy to have won it. It was a great feeling to run into the Olympic Stadium.”