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Sterling year for the marathon

NAIROBI, December 27 – The first Marathon run at the now standard distance of 42.195km was at the 1908 Olympic Games in London.

In many of the past 100 years there have been sensational victories, marvellous records and other exceptional accomplishments. Yet the 12 months of 2008 may have surpassed each of the previous 99 as the greatest of all.

Never before have so many run so fast and achieved so much.

Thirty year old Martin Lel started the marathon season with another important win in London setting a personal best 2:05:15 for his third win in four years there. The 2003 World Half Marathon champion however fell short in Beijing finishing fifth there in 2:10:24 well behind the medals.

Countryman Samuel Wanjiru, who had finished second behind Lel in London only losing by nine seconds (2:05:24 PB), was spectacular in Beijing winning in a fast 2:06:32 in very difficult conditions. Wanjiru, 22-years-old, holds the World Half Marathon record at 58:33 from 2007 and developed into an elite athlete in Japan where he went to high school.

Haile Gebrselassie, who had the world leading time 2:04:53 from Dubai in January, did not want to risk it and run in what he feared would be poor air conditions in Beijing and competed in Berlin again for the third year in a row.

The 35-year-old delivered again winning his third consecutive Berlin marathon with a second straight world record 2:03:59 cutting 27 seconds off his 2007 mark and become the first man to go under 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Kenya has a huge 65 athletes in the world top 100 with Ethiopia in second with 15. Japan has seven for the third place.

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Here are some pointers to an impressive year.

• Samuel Wanjiru ran a phenomenal 2:06:32 at the Beijing Olympics, by far the fastest time in championship competition. Without pacesetters and in warm August temperatures – 24 degrees at the gun, rising to a high of 30 – Wanjiru took 2 minutes 49 seconds from the previous Olympic record that had stood for 24 years. Jaouad Gharib, two-time Marathon World Champion and event record-holder, was also under the former standard.

• Haile Gebrselassie broke another historic time barrier with his 2:03:59 at Berlin in September. The legendary Ethiopian had begun 2008 with the then-second fastest time ever, 2:04:53 at Dubai in mid-January. Gebrselassie’s one year total time of 4:08:52 smashed the former best of 4:11:34 by Khalid Khannouchi’s duo of 2:05:38 and 2:05:56 in 2002.

• Tsegaye Kebede produced the first sub-3 minute per kilometre time at the prestigious Fukuoka International Marathon in December. His 2:06:10 put him at the top of the list of former winners there which in the previous two years had been Gebrselassie and Wanjiru.

• The Flora London Marathon in April had the fastest top-end finish in history. Martin Lel’s course record 2:05:15 led Wanjiru (2:05:24) and Abderrahim Goumri (2:05:30), an unprecedented three men under 2:06 in one race. Best times for place were also recorded by Emmanuel Mutai (2:06:15, fourth), Ryan Hall (2:06:17, fifth) and Deriba Merga (2:06:38, sixth).

• The Paris International Marathon one week earlier had another superb elite mass finish. Twelve men break 2:10 as best times for place were set for 10th through 16th places.

• The Rotterdam Marathon, also in April, was won by William Kipsang in 2:05:49. It was the first sub-2:06 on a course which was the site of the first sub-2:07 and sub-2:08s in history.

• Triple digits were reached for the first time in the number of sub-2:10s world-wide. There were 106, topping the old benchmark of 99 from 2003. There were also single year records for most sub-2:09s (66), sub-2:08s (36), sub-2:07s (16), sub-2:06s (7), sub-2:05s (2, equal 2003) and sub-2:04s (1).

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