Ten years after Stefano Baldini won the gold medal in the Athens Olympic marathon the course record of the Italian was finally broken: It was the unheralded Kenyan Felix Kandie who did it and caused a big surprise in the “Athens Marathon. The Authentic” on Sunday.
In warm weather conditions with temperatures in the sun well over 20 Celcius during much of the race Kandie clocked 2:10:37. This was 18 seconds faster than the course record and an improvement of his personal best by more than five minutes.
Baldini had won the Olympic gold with a time of 2:10:55 albeit in really hot conditions. The double Athens Marathon winner Raymond Bett was second in 2:12:34 while Josphat Chobei completed the Kenyan podium with 2:15:38 for third place.
It turned out to be a Kenyan day in Greece. The top three women were all from the east African country as well.
While the race was much closer in the end than the men’s event, records were out of reach for the women. Naomi Maiyo won with 2:41:06, defeating defending champion Nancy Rotich who followed in 2:41:29. Linah Chirchir took third with 2:42:41.
A record number of 13,000 runners entered the Athens Marathon, which is run on the original course of the 1896 Olympic Games. Athletes started in the town of Marathon and finished in the Panathinaikon Stadium in the heart of the capital.
Only the first ten kilometres run near the coast are relatively flat in this classic race. After that point in the small town of Nea Makri, where thousands of spectators lined the course, a tough uphill section with many ups and downs begins.
As soon as the first steep section was reached, runners from the big leading group started to fall back or even drop out. Eight athletes were left in the lead when the half way point was passed in 65:52.
Shortly before the highest point of the course – almost 250 metres above sea level – came a decisive move. When the two pacemakers dropped out right after 30k, Felix Kandie pushed the pace. Only Raymond Bett was able to follow him while Julius Korir and Josphat Chobei quickly lost ground.
With ten kilometres to go and the course now descending towards Athens it looked as if Bett was beaten. But the Athens winner of 2010 and 2012, who held the event record holder with a time of 2:11:35, managed to close a gap.
In response Kandie continued his relentless pace, covering the 5k section from 30 to 35k in 14:52. Bett was finally beaten shortly after the 35k mark while Kandie ran the next 5k even faster with 14:49. His reward was the course record as well as the Athens title.
“I felt strong and my body responded well after the half way mark. Firstly my goal was to make the podium. But when I was in the lead with Raymond Bett I did not fear him, I wanted to win,” said 28 year-old Felix Kandie, who entered the Athens Marathon with a personal best of 2:16:12 from Sydney in 2012.
Other credentials hardly suggested that he would be the man to break Baldini’s record. Kandie has a half marathon best of 62:46. “I am very happy, it is a big pleasure to run this race and win on the historic course.”
There was late drama in the women’s race. After a half marathon split of 1:20:23 three runners were still in a group at 35k: Naomi Maiyo, Nancy Rotich and Kidist Fiseha Tedla. While the Ethiopian struggled in the final section and was overtaken by Linah Chirchir in a fight for third place, Rotich took the lead.
But with the 40k mark in sight Maiyo came from behind and overtook her fellow-Kenyan. “Although I felt an injury I thought I would be able to hold on and win,” said Rotich. But the defending champion had to settle for second.
The 25 year-old Maiyo, who has a PB of 2:40:12 from Barcelona earlier this year, was 23 seconds ahead of Rotich in the Panathinaikon Stadium.
“This was the hardest road race I have run so far,” said the Kenyan after she finished in temperatures of around 25 Celsius in the old Olympic arena.
While many of the elite runners dropped out in the tough conditions she was rewarded with a win. “To be first in Athens is an inspiration for my future career,” said Maiyo.
1. Felix Kandie KEN 2:10:37
2. Raymond Bett KEN 2:12:34
3. Josphat Chobei KEN 2:15:38
4. Julius Korir KEN 2:15:51
5. Amare Eneayehu Abebe ETH 2:16:31
6. Belete Mekonnen Gezu ETH 2:19:46
1. Naomi Maiyo KEN 2:41:06
2. Nancy Joan Rotich KEN 2:41:29
3. Linah Chirchir KEN 2:42:41
4. Kidist Fiseha Tedla ETH 2:43:46
5. Yumiko Kinoshita JPN 2:44:18
6. Sofia Riga GRE 2:45:38