Raymond Bett’s foresight paid off, as the Kenyan confidently strode along the road from Marathon to Athens, to win the 30th edition of the Athens Classic Marathon in a race record of 2.11.35.
On the original marathon course, created for the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896, Bett loped along behind a handful of colleagues until he took the initiative on the steady decline in the final 10k to the finish in the splendid marble Panethenaiko Stadium, venue for the first modern Olympics. Bett finally despatched his last rival with about four kilometres to run, and was a comfortable winner, almost a minute ahead of colleagues, Paul Kosgei, who passed Alex Kirui inside the stadium, finishing second in 2.12.20, to Kirui’s third in 2.12.26.
Bett won here two years ago, and he said earlier this week that, having experienced the difficulty of the course, he specifically ran lots of hills in preparation. He was a very happy and justified man after the race.
“I was always confident I could win,” said Bett. “I used the experience of winning here two years ago, to hang at the back of the group in the hills, and come through at the end. The conditions today were good, but if I come back again, I think I could break the course record”.
As opposed to the race record, which Bett broke by five seconds, the course record belongs to 2004 Olympic winner, Stefano Baldini of Italy, with 2.10.55.
That looked way beyond reach after a steady but unspectacular first half in 66.22, at which point there were still a dozen men in contention. But the gradients and rolling hills in the middle of the course took their toll on the others, while Bett was preparing to run the second half over a minute faster.
Instead of a predicted headwind, there was ultimately a slight breeze at their backs, on a bright sunny morning, with temperatures rising from 15C(59F) at the 9am start, to 18C(64F) at the finish.
In only his second marathon, and despite the tough course, Kosgei improved his personal best by over two minutes; and Kirui completed the Kenyan sweep. The expected challenge from two strong Ethiopians never materialised, as Mesfin Hailu dropped off the pace well before halfway, then dropped out altogether, as did his colleague, Teferi Wodajo.
To complete the Kenyan day, the top trio’s trophies were presented by colleague and world record holder Patrick Makau, who had himself been given an award at a Gala Dinner two nights earlier, for the concurrent 30th anniversary of the Association of International Marathons (AIMS).
Kenyan debutante, Consolater Chemtai Yadaa won the women’s race in exactly 2.40.00; Svitlana Stanko of Ukraine was second in 2.40.07, while another Kenyan, Viola Chelangat Kimetto was third in 2.40.28.
The race has expanded considerably since the 2500th anniversary two years ago, of the Battle of Marathon, the event which ultimately gave rise to the creation of the event for the inaugural modern Olympic Games. Today, there were close to 10,000 runners at the start in Marathon; and over double that number ran in the five and ten kilometre races in Athens city centre.