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Event Report - Men Marathon

Gharib Makes It Two
Jaouad Gharib from Morocco became the second man to successfully defend a world marathon title today in Helsinki, winning in two hours 10 minutes 11 seconds. Second was early leader Christopher Isegwe Tanzania, in an amazing recovery, just 11sec down, while bronze went to Tsuyoshi Ogata Japan, who led his country to the team title from Kenya and Ethiopia. “I tried to stay with the lead pack until 30km and then I found my rhythm and made my move,” said Gharib. “Those were my tactics, to run well in the last 12km.”

It was a brave run from Gharib who, when he made his bid, immediately put daylight between himself and the Olympic champion, Stefano Baldini from Italy, later to drop out. It was only as Isegwe made a magical reappearance at the 40km mark that the Moroccan looked anywhere near threatened. 22 seconds down at that checkpoint, the 29-year-old Tanzanian whittled the lead down to 11sec at the line still full of running. “The Moroccan was very fast so if I had stuck to him I would perhaps not have reached the podium,” said Isegue. Ogata had a brief battle with Samson Ramadhani of Tanzania before he managed to dislodge him to claim bronze.

The early leaders as they wound out of Senate Square in the heart of the capital was the Tanzanian duo of 2:10 performer Getuli Bayo accompanied by Isegue, winner in Belgrade last year. Despite his early pacesetting which normally spells disaster, Isegue’s performance was to prove eyecatching.

As they passed the five-kilometre mark in 15:19 all the big players were there including the fastest man this year, Julio Rey from Spain, Baldini, Vandelei de Lima BRA who was rugby tackled in the Athens marathon but still won bronze, and Kenyan threats, Otsu winner Joseph Riri and Paris number two, Paul Biwott. In the middle of the pack, European Champion Janne Holmen FIN was running alongside the eventual bronze medallist Ogata.

The 10km-mat was crossed by Rey in 30:22 with Gharib showing in eighth, de Lima 12th and the Ethiopians packing in the teens in the middle of a pack of 35. Bringing up the rear was Ogata with a gap of 40 metres to a fading Holmen.

At 15km in 45:33 (2:07-pace) last year’s Amsterdam winner Robert Cherboror  KEN was in front with the pack still at 35-strong but looking as though it was about to break up. Making their presence felt were New York winner Hendrik Ramaala RSA and Rotterdam winner Jimmy Muindi KEN. It was at the 20km-mark (1:00:59) that Zebedayo Bayo TAN opened up a 10-metre gap. In the rush to rein him in the pack was whittled down to 20. The pace was starting to tell as Gharib passed the half-way point in 1:04:17 with Ethiopians, Japanese and Spaniards packing well for team honours while a lone Baldini lurked ominously.

At 25km Rey was in front (1:16:32) and looking easy despite spending a minute retying his shorts. Unusually Isegue, the early leader, was still there plugging away. The tallest man in the group, former basketball player Toshinari Takaoka JPN was in evidence. With nine out of ten of his races completed in under 2:08 it was his sort of pace.

For five kilometres there was a false peace as the lead group looked at each other with no one keen to make the decisive move. It was noticeable however that Gharib was looking round more than anyone, sizing up the opposition. But when he made his effort at 30km (1:31:45) only Rey, Takaoka, Biwott and Baldini were able to respond.

But then the Morroccan surged again and only the Italian responded with Takaoka detached but fighting to get on terms. The coup de grace was not long in coming. Another touch to the accelerator on a slight gradient and Baldini was gone and dropping dramatically back through the field, his race over. After 1:41:11 of running the Olympic champion stopped, bent over to get his breath and started to walk before breaking into a jog, clearly a spent force. He was later to drop out.

There was now some serious revision to the standings as Ogata was joined by Samson Ramadhani TAN and Geshaw Melese ETH, third in Paris this year.

Passing 35km in 1:47:01 Ramadhani was 22 down on Gharib with another second to Ogata and a revived Isegue hunting down the chasing group.

Incredibly Isegwe, 30 seconds down at this point, came back into contention for a medal as he swept past Ogata and Ramadhani and set his sights on Gharib who was whiling away his time wringing out his vest soaked from the water he had splashed over himself. He was later to explain that he had a pain in his stomach. In recognition of the danger marathon runners are now under after de Lima’s unfortunate experience in Athens, the eventual winner was flanked by four policemen on bikes, two on either side of the road.

From here on in it was a triumphal procession for Gharib who crossed the line and flexed his muscles in a show of strength no one could argue with. In second a refreshed Isegue sprinted to silver while a smiling Ogata was happy to take bronze. “It was a difficult race because the pace was going up and down,” said Ogata. “When Gharib made his move I did not dare to follow. I thought that could be dangerous at the end of the race.”