SAMUEL Wanjiru made it a full house of Olympic titles in middle distance and long distance races for Kenya’s men yesterday as he ended their title drought in the event and broke the long-standing Olympic record as well.
The 21-year-old timed 2’06:32, breaking the 24-year-old Olympic record set by Carlos Lopes.
He beat home Morocco’s two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib (2’07:16) 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.”
The youngster was no complete outsider as he had finished second at the London Marathon earlier this year and holds the half marathon world record.
“I had to push the pace to tire the other runners and because my body gets tired when I slow down,” said Wanjiru. “I tried to push with six kilometres left. It was hard but they couldn’t keep up.”
The winning time was fast given the quickly rising temperatures on a sunny day in the 42.195km race from Tiananmen Square past several Beijing landmarks to the stadium.
The pace was high from the outset with Wanjiru and others breaking away before the 10km mark. Soon there were only five runners left up front, apart from the medallists Deriba Merga of Ethiopia and Martin Lel of Kenya.
The group was further reduced to three before Wanjiru made his final move. Merga tired dramatically in the end and was overtaken for bronze by Kebede in the stadium as he lost four minutes on Wanjiru in the final 5km.
Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie did not compete, saying he was worried about Beijing’s pollution. The Ethiopian ran the 10,000m instead and finished sixth there.
The race took its toll as world champion Luke Kibet of Kenya retired after 30km and the 2004 Olympic gold medallist Stefano Baldini of Italy had to settle for 12th place in his last big race.
“The start was okay because it wasn’t so hot but during the race the weather was bad. In the last 10km it was unbelievable what the Kenyans and Africans were able to do in these conditions,” said Baldini.
Kibet said: “I had a problem with my stomach. I started to feel it from 15km.”