Wansiru Becomes First Kenyan to Win Men's Marathon at Olympic

Wansiru celebrates after winning gold medal at Olympic

Samuel Kamau Wansiru won the men's marathon in an Olympic record time in Beijing today, becoming the first Kenyan to secure the title a year after he suffered a bout of malaria.

Under clear blue skies and with temperatures rising into the mid-80s Fahrenheit (29 Celsius), the 5-foot-4 Wansiru broke clear of two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib in the last 10 kilometers (six miles) to enter the Bird's Nest stadium alone.

Wansiru, who weighs 51 kilograms (112 pounds), thrust his right arm into the air and completed the victory 44 seconds ahead of Morocco's Gharib. Tsegay Kebede took the bronze after overtaking fellow Ethiopian Deriba Merga on the final bend. Defending champion Stefano Baldini of Italy was 12th.

``In Kenya we have many medals, but I'm glad to have this one,'' Wansiru told reporters. ``It feels good to make history.''

Wansiru's time of two hours, six minutes, 32 seconds was 2:49 faster than the Olympic record Portugal's Carlos Lopes set at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, laying to rest pre-Games concern that pollution, heat and humidity might hamper the top athletes or damage their health.

Haile Gebrselassie, the world record holder from Ethiopia who is an asthmatic, decided not to run the marathon because he feared for his well-being. The International Olympic Committee had threatened to postpone endurance events if smog became dangerous to competitors.

Bonus

Wansiru, who lives in Japan, is the world record holder in the half marathon and donated his bonus for achieving the feat to the children's home where his mother works in Nyahururu in central Kenya.

``The conditions were very good, a little humid,'' he said. ``I had to push the pace to tire the others, I had to push the pace because my body gets tired in the heat when I slow down.''

Of the other favorites, Ethiopia's Martin Lel, a three-time winner in London and two-time New York marathon champion, finished fifth. Viktor Rothlin, a bronze medalist at last year's world championship, was sixth.

``The start was OK because it wasn't so hot, but during the race the weather was bad,'' Baldini said. ``In the last 10 kilometers it was unbelievable what the Kenyans and Africans were able to do in these conditions.''

Athletes from Kenya, regular winners of middle and long distance races, had never previously won the men's marathon, with Douglas Wakiihuri and Eric Wainaina coming closest with silver medals in Seoul in 1988 and Sydney in 2000, respectively.

``For now I want to relax, but I want to get better and do it again next time,'' Wansiru said. ``My next goal is to get the world record, maybe next year.''

The marathon was the first of 12 gold medals to be decided on the final day of the Beijing Olympics.

Bloomberg

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