ATHENS, Greece, November 12 – Raymond Kimutai Bett won the 30th Athens Classic Marathon on Sunday which was marked by a new record participation for the authentic course with 26,000 elite athletes and ordinary citizens from 100 countries and regions worldwide taking part at the Sunday event.
In a sad moment for an otherwise sunny day in Athens, an elderly runner who competed in the 10Km race, died of heart attack, Greek organizers announced, expressing deep sorrow over the incident.
The 59 year old man finished the race and collapsed shortly afterwards. He was immediately transferred to a nearby hospital, but did not win this battle.
Bett covered the 42km distance from the Marathon Tomb to Athens first run by Greek legendary soldier Pheidippides 25 centuries ago, in 2:11:35.
It was the second time in two years he crossed first the finish line inside the Panathinaikon stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.
Bett set a new race record, beating last year’s Moroccon winner, but did not manage to break the course record held by Italian Stephano Baldini who won the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in 2:10:55.
He was greeted with warm applause by thousands spectators, led by compatriot Consolata Chemtai Yadaa who had won the women’s race in 2:40:07.
Under blue sky on a sunny day in Athens the crowd celebrated the feat of each participant with similar enthusiasm, since for Greek organizers “winners are all participants.”
Approximately 9,500 runners followed the steps of Pheidippides who according to legend in 490 BC announced the victory of Greeks over Persians forces in the Marathon battlefield and died of exhaustion.
Thousands more competed in shorter distance races in the historic centre of the Greek capital. Entire families with parents pushing baby trolleys, white-haired pensioners, Special Olympics athletes and local celebrities promoting social awareness for various causes, joined the ten and five kilometre courses.
Among them was Despoina Layonika, a Greek customs clearer, who ran the 5 kilometer race, encouraged by her brother Christos.
“It is the first time I compete and I am overwhelmed. I could not imagine the extent of participation. The atmosphere is great,” she told Xinhua at the marble Panathinaikon stadium.
“The race as race, noble rivalry and participation- that is the message,” she added, when asked what she will keep in mind and heart from this day.
Greek policeman Nikiforos Tsihlakis is a fan of the Marathon for years. He has taken part in several races in Athens and abroad.
“For Greece the Marathon race is something unique, because it started from here and this stadium is unique. I have participated in other marathons across the globe, but the Athens Marathon course is different,” he told Xinhua, shortly after finishing the 10Km course.
Christos called on citizens of the world to take part in the authentic course at least once, if possible. Otherwise, “take up running and sports wherever” they can.
“The Marathon race and in general sports have a lot to offer to people and Greeks who are facing significant difficulties this period, due to the economic crisis.. The Marathon is a way to leave problems behind,” he stressed, referring to the crisis which has hit hard Greece and global economy over the past three years.
The Athens Classic Marathon race is dedicated to the memory of Grigoris Lambrakis, a Balkan Games Champion, member of Greek parliament and pacifist who in 1963 organized the first Peace Marathon race and was assassinated shortly afterwards.