Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kipkorir and Kasim to lead the fields at Athens Marathon

The organisers of this year’s Athens Classic Marathon, on Sunday 31 October, have an opportunity to launch the race into the stratosphere that its legend and history deserves.

This year is the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, whose legend gave rise to the addition of a long distance race to the inaugural modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896. Accordingly, this year’s race, on the original course, from Marathon to Athens, is a special edition of the Athens Classic Marathon.

The event, this year an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, has been relatively low-key since it was revived three decades ago. There were just 3600 finishers last year, and the race record at 2:12:42 by Paul Lekuraa of Kenya in 2008 is almost two minutes slower than the course record of 2:10:55, set by 2004 Olympic winner Stefano Baldini of Italy.

But the elite entry has been beefed up this year, with Jonathan Kosgei Kipkorir of Kenya leading the pack on paper, with his 2:07:31 personal best from Paris 2009. There are three other sub-2:10 Kenyans, as well as Lekuraa. The leading woman is Ashu Kasim of Ethiopia, who also ran her personal best of 2:25:49 in Paris last year.

But the event has proved a hit with the public across the world. The popular entry was oversubscribed within weeks, and entries were closed last March at 20,000.

Baldini will be one of half a dozen special ‘marathon’ guests, who will be able to relive their exploits at the Museum of the Marathon in the town itself, venue of the battle which both gave the race its name, and is still the starting point for the event.

Museum director, Maria Polyzou has a tale of her own to tell. Two months ago, Polyzou, who is national Marathon record holder retraced the steps of Phillipides (Pheidippides), and completed a similar legendary run, from Athens to Sparta and back to the tomb of the fallen soldiers from 490BCE, in Marathon. Unlike Phillipides, she survives.

A surprise entry, at least to himself, is colleague and 1968 Boston Marathon winner, Amby Burfoot, who was presented with an entry by his family while celebrating his 64th birthday two months ago. One way, I guess of forcing him back on the road after knee surgery.

The municipality of Marathon, which has hosted a symposium of the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) for the last two years will cede place to Athens, for this year’s World AIMS Congress. But the expected 200 delegates from around the world will travel to Marathon on the day before the race for the traditional lighting of the Marathon Flame. The one that all marathoners carry inside.

Pat Bucher for the IAAF