BEIJING, August 24 – Samuel Wanjiru made it a full house of Olympic titles in middle distance and long distance races for Kenya’s men on Sunday as he ended their title drought in the event and broke the long-standing Olympic record as well.,
The 21-year-old timed 2hours 6minutes 32seconds, breaking the 24-year-old Olympic record set by Carlos Lopes.
He beat home Morocco’s two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib (2hr07:16) for the gold while Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia took the bronze.
"In Kenya, we have many medals, but I’m glad to have this one," said Wanjiru, who learnt to run the marathon when he left for school in Japan aged 15.
"It feels good to make history here. It feels good to make history for Kenya and win the gold," added Wanjiru, who is keen to break the world record next year.
The race came alive at the 20km mark when five runners split from the leading pack.
The quintet comprised Gharib, two Kenyans in three-time London Marathon winner Martin Lel and Wanjiru, second in this year’s London Marathon.
The other two were Eritrean Yonas Kifle and Ethiopia’s Deriba Werga, who had timed his personal best at the London Marathon but had been over a minute behind Wanjiru.
Several of the favourites failed to cope with the hot conditions especially defending champion Stefano Baldini of Italy.
The 37-year-old was out of contention early on as the European champion failed to find the spark he had in Athens four years ago and was to finish 12th.
"It was incredible what the Africans managed to do in those last 10km," gasped Baldini.
"This was my last marathon and my last international event. I want to carry on running but without the stress."
America’s hopes of ending on a winning note also died around that time as Ryan Hall, who has impressed since he switched from running the mile, also found nothing when the quintet split.
By the 30km mark, though, the picture had dramatically changed as Wanjiru and Werga upped the pace and Gharib, Lel, who should on form have been able to go with them as he owned the fastest time this year among those running, and Kifle could not find anything.
However, while Lel and Kifle floundered, 36-year-old Gharib drew on all his championship winning experience and somehow managed to reel in the front two setting up what looked sure to be a thrilling climax.
The trio were still intact as they passed the 35km marker with Wanjiru leading them out.
Behind them Kifle had squirmed free of a tiring Lel, who was beginning to look behind him in a sure sign of desperation, but the Eritrean faced a tough task in getting back to the leaders as he was nearly a minute-and-a-half adrift.
Shortly after that Wanjiru went up a gear to test out the other two and found Werga wanting, though, Gharib stuck to him like a limpet.
But even he could not keep up the pace and the young Kenyan had by the time they got to 40km established a clear gap between himself and the Moroccan.
With two kilometres to go as they appeared under the shadow of the stadium the game was clearly up for Gharib, who had an 18sec gap to make up if he were to add Olympic gold to his two world titles.
But Wanjiru was not for cracking and strode to a memorable victory – raising his left arm in celebration on entering stadium and was still full of running as he rounded off a highly satisfying Games for the Kenyans.
Werga faded so badly that what had looked at one point could be gold turned to nothing as Kebede passed him on the final lap round the track.
Whilst they fought out the medals there was a remarkable performance among the stragglers as 53-year-old Israeli Seteng Ayele battled through the extreme heat to finish 69th – way down on his 20th placing in 2004 but quite a feat given 19 of his rivals failed to finish.