Abera follows in Bikila’s Olympic marathon footsteps


SYDNEY, AFP

Gezahgne Abera won the men’s marathon here Sunday, completing Ethiopia’s dominance of the athletics distance events at these Games by capturing the final gold medal of the Millennium Olympics.

Kenya’s Eric Wainaina took the silver and Abera’s Ethiopian team-mate Tesfaye Tola claimed the bronze.

Abera follows in the footsteps of his legendary compatriot Abebe Bikila, who won the Rome marathon barefoot in 1960 and defended the title in Tokyo four years later. Mamo Wolde also won marathon gold for Ethiopia in 1968 at Mexico City.

It also completed a tremendous Sydney Games for Ethiopia after gold-medal performances from Haile Gebrselassie, Million Wolde and Derartu Tulu in distance events.

Abera finished the 42.2 km in 2hr 10min 11sec while Wainaina, who improved on his bronze in Atlanta four years ago, clocked 20001. Tola posted 20100, just ahead of Britain’s Jon Brown.

“The gold is special,” Abera said. “I am happy for me and I am happy for my country.”

The 22-year-old ran himself to exhaustion and needed medical attention before he could collect his gold medal.

For Wainaina, the result represented a great turnaround in fortune. Having not run in the official Kenyan trial race, he was not included in the original team, and was only added in controversial circumstances.

Starting at 4 p.m. local time, in the hottest part of the day, the 102 starters also had to contend with a strong, swirling wind as well as a notoriously tough course which has five stamina-sapping hills in the last 10km.

“The wind kept pushing us back,” Tola said. “It made it very hard for us the whole way.”

Mindful of the conditions, the race began at a conservative pace, and it was not until Domingos Castro of Portugal launched an attack close to the halfway mark that the race began in earnest.

By the time the leaders made the steep climb on to Anzac Bridge, the dozen-strong pack included Josiah Thugwane, the defending champion, Abdelkadir El Mouaziz, of Morocco, Wainaina, Brown and the Ethiopians.

It was Wainaina that looked eager to make the moves.

Into the hilly last 10km of the race, and Wainaina surged up the hills, reducing the lead group to himself and the Ethiopian pair.

“Every time I took the lead, the others clipped my heels,” Wainaina said. “In the end, I just let them go.”

Abera, winner of last year’s prestigious Fukuoka race in Japan, broke away over the final 5km.