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October 1, 2000
Africa rules the marathonThe Rediff Team
It's the longest race of them all. Also the toughest. Run in memory of Philippedes, the professional messenger who brought the news of the Greek victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon, arrived in Athens, gasped out the words "Be joyful! We won!". And died.
The final event of the Games kicked off at 4pm Australia time, in order that the first runners could come into Stadium Australia a touch over two hours later as the signal for the start of the closing ceremony.
The course takes you through the picturesque North Sydney Oval, across Harbour Bridge, around Centennial Park, back along the Mardi Gras parade route in Oxford Street, down to Darling Harbour, then the heart-bursting climb over Anzac Bridge, then an up and down section from Rozelle to North Strathfield. Easily one of the toughest courses ever laid out, with the huge ascent followed by descents down the Bridge that, for the unwary runner, could mean the lure of easy speed and the burnout that follows.
Aussie interest centered around Steve Moneghetti, the local favourite running his 22nd -- and last -- marathon.
An easy start, with none of the top runners opting to make an early push, instead letting lesser runners dominate early while they run in the second pack.
It is an interesting aspect of the marathon that the heart and head both converge into a tactical race. The great runners run their own race, not letting early leaders dictate what they will do. As in Maso, of Botswana, who in this race opened up a massive lead over the first 12 kms, without any of the top runners being even concerned.
Australians Lee Troop and Steve Moneghetti went into the leading pack early, alongside Maso, with Venezuela's Semprun also running a fast early race.
However, the disadvantage of an early lead was showing by the 18th km. Maso, then a minute and more ahead of the pack, looked to tire, his head dropped, the pace dropped with it, and gradually, the gap narrowed as the more seasoned marathoners, running within themselves, caught up.
The runners from Portugal and Ethiopia -- Tola, running easily for the latter -- gradually took over the lead from Maso, around the 25km mark, with Kenya's Eric Wainaina and Ethiopians Tesfaye Tola and Gezaghne Abera pulling ahead, as the group ran up the steep Anzac Bridge incline in the face of a stiff head wind.
That was when things got interesting. Tola kept the lead, with Wainana in second and Abera lying third, for three kilometers before Wainana tried a break, opening up on the Ethiopians. You could see the two Ethiopians, running shoulder to shoulder in second, chatting among themselves, and Tola clearly signalling to Abera that he didn't have the legs to outsprint the Kenyan so maybe Abera should try.
Defending champion Josia Thugwane of South Africa was somewhere in the pack behind the three race leaders, as was Australia's Monighetti.
Wainaina with a surge opened a five metre lead on the two Ethiopians with about six kilometers to go, but neither Ethiopian runner seemed unduly worried as they ran in unison in second place.
And then, as the runners came into the shadow of the giant Stadium Australia, with about three kms left to go, Abera went. One strong surge took him away from Tola, then past Wainana and into the lead. He looked relaxed, yet experts recalled the Boston Marathon this year when, after a similar surge, Kenya's Lagat overhauled him in the last stages of the race.
The 22-year-old Abera, though, seemed to know what he was doing. Having opened up a ten metre lead over the Kenyan, he then settled into a steady, loping stride, maintaining that gap as they ran into the approaches to Sydney stadium.
Tesfaye Tola kept his place, about ten seconds behind Wainana, without ever looking likely to challenge the Kenyan for silver.
Abera raced into the stadium a good 15 metres ahead of Wainana, to an incredible reception from a crowd around 80,000 and building. Wainana and Tola raced in behind him, but the gold was clearly Abera's as he maintained his strong showing, as he breasted the tape in 2:10:11.
19 seconds later, Wainana got home. And Tola, visibly drawing on his last reserves of energy, made it an African sweep and Ethiopia's second medal of the race, claiming bronze.
Steve Moneghetti, the runner to earn the largest cheer as he ran his last ever marathon, came in tenth, in 2:14:50. He could well have been first, judging by the sound of cheering that erupted from the stadium as he breasted the tape.
In that first marathon, Philippides collapsed, dead. Here, the Ethiopians and the Kenyan merely paused to pick up their country flags, before running on -- around the stadium, in celebrations that had the crowd on its feet.
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