Kibet Scorches the Field
Saturday, August 25, 2007
OSAKA, Japan, Aug. 25 -- Sun seared the course of Saturday morning's marathon at the 11th IAAF World Track and Field Championships and a thick cloud of humidity sapped most of the field, except for Kenyan Luke Kibet, who rode long and easy strides to a victory that was so convincing he was the only competitor inside Nagai Stadium -- where runners completed the last 400 meters of the race and crossed the finish line -- when he grabbed a Kenyan flag to begin his victory lap.
Despite temperatures that climbed to 91 degrees and humidity that peaked at 87 percent, Kibet seemed barely to perspire and led so comfortably after breaking away at about 19 miles that he broke stride to turn all the way around and look over his right shoulder, then his left, trying to figure out where in the world the rest of the field went.
As Kibet claimed Kenya's first gold medal in the event in 20 years in 2 hours 15 minutes and 59 seconds, many of his more acclaimed rivals were felled by the heat. Spain's Julio Rey, the world championships silver medalist in 2003 who had the fastest time entering the race, dropped out, along with 29 other runners.
"I felt comfortable despite the hot weather," Kibet said after the race. "After [18.6 miles], I realized the pace is slow and started to push. At [20 miles], I started to believe I can win this race."
Paris Marathon winner Mubarak Hassan Shami of Qatar -- formerly Richard Yatich of Kenya -- finished second in 2:17:18, while Switzerland's Viktor Rothlin claimed third in 2:17:25. A trio of Japanese athletes finished fifth through seventh, drawing roars from the crowd here.
Three un-acclaimed Americans, who managed a respectable fourth place in the team competition, declared the conditions the worst they had ever experienced. After, that is, they recovered.
American marathon runner Fernando Cabada Jr., who finished 50th of 57 finishers in 2:35:48, mysteriously dropped to the ground to rest before addressing a cluster of reporters. When he arose slowly, a runner from Israel who was standing next to Cabada flat-out toppled over. Track officials rushed over to carry off the runner, Seteng Ayele, as Cabada leaned on the fence for support.
"I'm just happy I finished," said Cabada, who was fourth among Americans. "That was the hardest race I've ever run."
And the Americans, including Mbarak Kipkorir Hussein (2:23:04, 21st), Mike Morgan (2:23:28, 23rd), and Kyle O'Brien (2:28:28) spent 10 days in Orlando training for the tropical heat here, often wearing long sleeves and long pants. Morgan said each drank 10 ounces of water after each 3.1 miles. The combined time of Hussein, Morgan and O'Brien (7:15:00) trailed only teams from Japan, Korea and Kenya.
"These are the worst conditions I've ever run in," Morgan said. "It was brutal out there."
World championship marathons rarely attract the world's most elite runners, who prefer the bigger purses and appearance fees associated with professional road races such as the London and Chicago marathons. Nations such as Spain, whose national federation provide financial incentives to their runners, generally perform well at the championships.
The United States sent an even more inexperienced team than usual given a major race on the horizon: the Olympic trials in the men's marathon for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing will be contested a day before the New York City Marathon in November along the same course.
Still, the field boasted 23 entrants who had run better than 2:09 in the event.
None of them gave much trouble to Kibet, who has run seven other marathons and claimed victory this year in the Vienna Marathon. The pace was slow through the midway point, and Kibet, feeling fine, started to push with about six miles remaining. He said he turned to Shami, an old friend from Kenya, and told him to hurry up, stick with him.
"I told him to come here; we had to push together," Kibet said. "But then I had to go."
Indeed, Shami couldn't do it. He needed a late sprint to move from fourth to second place. Rather than being disappointed that he couldn't claim the victory, Shami said he was thrilled to salvage a medal.
"I got silver," he said. "I'm so very happy."