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2008 Olympic Games Beijing - Men's Marathon



Host City: Beijing, China Format: 42,195 metres (26 miles, 385 yards) point-to-point
Date Started: August 24, 2008  
Date Finished: August 24, 2008  
(Competitors: 95; Countries: 57)  
    Venue(s): Beijing National Stadium, Beijing
Overview by IAAF    2008_olympic_stadium.jpg
The expected hot and humid conditions were thought to militate against a quick pace, as was Beijing’s smog which was once anticipated to be so bad that the race would need to be cancelled. The latter fear proved to be utterly unfounded, while the former was dispelled with a first 5Km by Wanjiru of 14:52, followed by 14:33. It was evident that a quick race was in store, despite the temperature of 24°C at the start (rising to 30° by the end of the race). The leading group comprised of eight men when halfway was reached in 62:34 with Yonas Kifle (ERI) leading, with Merga, Gharib, Lel and Wanjiru all in attendance. Kifle would eventually fade to 36th, losing nearly 14 minutes in the second half. At 30Km Merga led from Wanjiru (1:29:14) with Gharib four seconds back. Wanjiru broke away at the 38Km mark, and by 40Km (1:59:54) was 18 seconds clear of Gharib, with Merga another 1:39 back. Unworried by the heat, the Kenyan finished in a magnificent 2:06:32, and Gharib, 44 seconds behind, was 2:44 ahead of Kebede, who passed his teammate Merga with 250m to go. Wanjiru (21) became the youngest marathon champion since 1932 and his time was the fastest ever in a major championship or in such difficult conditions. Tragically Wanjiru – whose name was wrongly shown as “Wansiru” in Beijing’s information systems – did not live to make further Olympic history. On May 15, 2011 at age 24, he died from his injuries after falling off a balcony at his home in Nyahururu. It is not clear if his death was an accident, suicide or murder.
Summary by      
The world’s best marathoner was considered Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie who had first made his mark on the track with 10K gold medals in 1996 and 2000 and World Championships at 10K in 1993, 1995, 1997, and 1999. He began running the marathon seriously in 2005, and in September 2007 had broken the world record with 2-04:26 in Berlin. But he opted out of the marathon in Beijing, concerned about air quality and its possible deleterious effects on his health. This left the race wide open. The day of the race saw temperatures of 24° C. (77° F.) and high humidity, negating chances for a fast time. Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru knew the heat would make fast times difficult but had trained in the heat in Japan and was determined to set a very fast pace. He went to the lead immediately, passing 5K in 14:52, and many of the lead runners would not go with him, thinking the pace was too fast for the conditions. Wanjiru eased slightly after the opening 5K but ran in the lead throughout. At the halfway mark, he had cut the lead pack to only five runners – Yonas Kifle (ERI), Deriba Merga (ETH), Martin Lel (KEN), and Moroccan Jaouad Gharib. After 30K, only Gharib could stay with Wanjiru. But at 35K, they shared a water bottle, and Wanjiru then put the hammer down to drop Gharib, eventually winning by 44 seconds in 2-06:32, considered stunning in the heat. Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede closed fast to get the silver medal but was almost three minutes back of Gharib. In September, Gebrselassie again broke the marathon world record at the Berlin race, running 2-03:59.


Prior to this competition, the existing world and Olympic records were as follows:

World record Ethiopia Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) 2:04:26 Berlin, Germany 28 September 2007
Olympic record  Carlos Lopes (POR) 2:09:21 Los Angeles, United States 12 August 1984

The following new Olympic record was set during this competition.

Date Event Athlete Time OR WR
24 August Samuel Kamau Wanjiru Kenya 2:06:32 OR  

The men's marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics took place on 24 August at 7:30am in Beijing, ending in the Beijing National Stadium. The winner of the event was Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya, who set an Olympic record in the time of two hours, six minutes, and 32 seconds

The qualifying standards were 2:15:00 (A standard) and 2:18:00 (B standard).

The Race

It began in the early morning instead of the traditional late at night start. Through 10k, a group of 8 was at front. They were all broken down to five at 20k. At the front was Eritrean Yonas Kifle, Ethiopian Deriba Merga, Kenya's Martin Lel and Sammy Wanjiru, and Moroccan Jaouad Gharib. over the next 10k Deriba Merga started to press the pace, dropping Lel and Kifle. Just after 30k, Sammy Wanjiru attacked Deriba Merga who would crack and fade out of the medals. Sammy Wanjiru continued to sustain his gap back to Gharib. Gharib slowly reeled the deficit back but Wanjiru won the gold medal in an Olympic record 2:06:32. Gharib got silver, and Tsegaye Kebede pulled himself into third to take the bronze.

Men's Marathon

Samuel Wanjiru (for some unexplained reason spelt Wansiru here in Beijing!) sizzled his way to the Olympic record in high temperatures today in Beijing.

Slicing just under 3 minutes off the second oldest men’s Athletics record (Bob Beamon’s 1968 Long Jump mark is the oldest), Kenyan Half Marathon World record holder Samuel Wanjiru took apart Carlos Lopes’ time of 2:09:21 which had won the Portuguese the 1984 Los Angeles title.

Wanjiru’s winning time of 2:06:32 was the result of a virtual gun to tape win (as part of the lead pack all the way) from the 21-year-old who has a PB of 2:05:24 from London this year. But what stood out about today’s performance was that while similar fast times have been run in major city races in cooler spring and autumn temperatures, today’s race unfolded in full sunshine with a temperature of 24 degrees at the gun which warmed rapidly throughout the race to a high of 30.

This was Kenya’s first ever Olympic marathon victory, and overall helped their athletics team equal their best ever number of Olympic titles, four, in one Olympic Games which had been achieved in Seoul 1988.

The race began  at Tiananmen Square, and with less than 10km run, with Wanjiru sharing the pace with compatriot Martin Lel, the three time London and two-time New York winner, the leading pack had already been cut to just 8 principal players.

The third Kenyan Luke Kibet, the surprise World champion was also a member of this lead pack with Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga, two-time World champion Jaouad Gharib of Morocco, Eritrea’s Yared Asmerom and Yonas Kifle, and Spain’s Manuel Martinez.

The Spaniard didn’t last long but he was not the only one to suffer from the outrageous pace for the race, which was already on sub-2:07 pace, with Asmerom and then the World champion Kibet being dropped.

This meant that by 20km (59:10), with Merga sharing the pace making duties with Kifle, the group was now down to the 26-year-old Ethiopian and 30-year-old Eritrean, plus Wanjiru, Lel, and Gharib, who went together through the half marathon point in 1:02:34.

This half way pace was enough ultimately to kill off Kifle’s ambitions, as when he was dropped around 29km he fell back quickly and eventually finished 36th (2:20:23). Lel was equally feeling the speed and not long after the Eritrean’s demise the Kenyan number two was also saying good bye to his medal chances.

Gharib, the World champion from 2003 and 2004, was dropping on and off the back of the lead pack like a yo-yo throughout these stages. Just as you thought the Moroccan’s hopes had finally been kicked into touch, there he was back again challenging and looking strong.

In pursuit of the lead pack was Ethiopia’s Paris marathon winner Tsegay Kebebe who with Asmerom in tow, had at the half marathon point caught and passed the fast fading Kibet. The Ethiopian gradually also dropped the Eritrean and made his own solo chase to catch-up with the leaders.

So the order at 30km was Merga and Wanjiru pushing ahead (1:29:14) with Gharib, four seconds adrift but by the time Tsinghua University was reached (31km) the Moroccan was properly back on their heels.

At this point, Gharib looked confidently around him, noted they were well clear of anyone else, and a broad smile hit his face. A medal in his opinion at least was now a cert. Suddenly we realised he was stronger than his running had implied, and that it was going to take something very special to cut him away from his title ambitions.

35km was past in 1:44:37 with this trio still together, Gharib all the time one step or two behind. Kifle was now a distant fourth (1:28 behind), while Kebebe was 1:52 adrift.

But Wanjiru was only biding his time, and with exactly 1:49:30 on the clock he pounced. It was a kick of the highest magnitude, and it killed off Merga immediately. Gharib was also dropped but looked the strongest of the challengers, yet by 40km which Wanjiru passed in 1:59:54, he was 18 seconds behind and by the finish the gap had grown to 44.

Wanjiru crossed in 2:06:32, with Gharib second in 2:07:16. Merga’s legs were so heavy that he was passed for bronze by his fast finishing compatriot Kebede who took bronze in 2:10:00, with Merga 21 seconds adrift in fourth.

Lel hung onto some condition to close out fifth in 2:10:24, with Viktor Rothlin of Switzerland, the World Champs bronze medallist, in sixth (2:10:24), the first European home.

Defending champion Stefano Baldini of Italy, after recent injury problems finished 12th in 2:13:25.

Chris Turner for the IAAF

Overcoming tumultuous year, Wanjiru takes first Kenyan Olympic marathon victory


BeijingFor Kenyan athletics it was an historic moment. But for Kenya itself it’s a symbol of peace just months after it was torn apart by bloody political violence that divided country along tribal lines.

On a sweltering last morning at the Beijing Olympic Games, two Kenyans from different tribal backgrounds hatched a plan to bring their country, the most famous distance running nation in the world, its first Olympic marathon gold.

The plan was simple – run the first half fast. But it worked to perfection as Sammy Wanjiru, a 21-year-old Kikuyu from Kenya’s Central Province smashed the Olympic record that was set three years before he was born in only the third Mrathon of his career.

“I’m really happy to be the winner here in Beijing,” says Wanjiru, who crossed the line in 30 degree heat in 2:06:32, almost three full minutes inside the record set by Carlos Lopes back in 1984. “This is history for Kenya. Since 1968 we’ve been trying but we haven’t ever won a gold medal in the marathon. I’m really happy to make Kenyan history.”

Wanjiru’s victory brought Kenya’s gold medal haul to five, making these Games the country’s most successful ever – a fitting achievement for a nation that started the year in such turmoil that many of its runners were forced to flee for their lives, and many more had to leave the country just to find a safe place to train.

That Wanjiru’s performance owes much to his partnership with Martin Lel, a Kalenjin by background, only adds to its poignancy.

Lel, Wanjiru and the third Kenyan team member, the 2007 world champion Luke Kibet, were all too aware of the gaping hole in Kenya’s marathon history, and felt a deep sense of responsibility to fill it. They were fully aware too of the problems their country has had to overcome in the last eight months – Kibet himself was attacked twice during the upheavals, and Lel had to flee from his base in the Rift Valley to train in the hills among tea plantations, and later in Namibia.

“It wasn’t ideal,” says Lel. “We tried to carry on training but it wasn’t good for us with the fighting that was going on.”

Not ideal preparation then, to break your Olympic duck. So often Kenya has come to the Games with high hopes of winning the Marathon. After all, its Marathon runners have swamped the world lists year after year and athletes such as Lel, Robert Cheruiyot and Paul Tergat, the former World record holder, have won many of the big city races around the globe.

Indeed, Tergat was favourite to win the Athens Olympic marathon four years ago, but struggled home in tenth place as Italy’s Stefano Baldini took the gold with a calculated piece of pacing. In Olympic terms, before today all Kenya had to show for its rich Marathon history was two silvers and one bronze.

But Lel and Wanjiru learned from Athens, and from this year’s London Marathon – where they ran at near World record pace for 35km. “The idea was to make this like London,” explained Lel. “Run it fast and hard, especially in the first half.

“We realised that in the Olympics if there is a slow pace in the first half then Kenyans are trapped because the Europeans and others will be very strong in the later stages. So we knew our tactics had to be to fight hard in the first half so we could cut them off with a fast pace.”

“We know that Kenyans like to run very fast, so if it was a slow pace it would have been much harder to win,” confirmed Wanjiru. “I tried to push at a high pace because the Asians and Europeans are usually very strong in the second half.”

In the end they sacrificed two, but it was worth it. Kibet, who made much of the early running, paid for it after 25km when he was forced to pull out. Lel hung onto the group of five front runners until around 30km when Wanjiru surged ahead with Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga and Jaouad Gharib of Morocco, who would eventually get the silver.

Lel finished fifth in the end, but for him it was a triumph. “It was very tough for everybody,” he says. “In fact it was a good race, especially for us because we needed to be tactical and to use a kind of stealth. We planned to have a gold for Kenya, that’s all.

“In the end I think Sammy was excellent, and for me, I am OK. Kenya has a gold and that’s what we came for. It’s great for me.”

For Wanjiru the gold medal is not just a national triumph but a personal one, marking the end of a journey that’s taken him across three continents, from an impoverished upbringing in rural Africa, via a Japanese education, to record-breaking exploits in Europe, and the top of the Olympic medal podium in China.

Brought up in the small town of Nyahururu by his single mother, Anne Wanjiru (it’s a Kikuyu tradition to take your mother’s name), Wanjiru left home at 15 to go to Japan on an education scholarship. It was something of a trend at the time for Kenyans to go to Japan, one started back in the 1980s by Douglas Wakihurii, who won Marathon gold at the 1987 World Championships. He studied at Sendai Ikuei High School, the same school attended by former Goodwill Games winner Julius Gitahi.

Wanjiru was already a runner but it was only when he broke the world age 15 best for 10,000m in Konosu that he realised how good. He soon hooked up with Koichi Morishita, the 1992 Olympic silver medallist, and Morishita became his coach.

It took just three years before he first burst onto the international scene with two sparkling performances within the space of two weeks at the end of summer 2005. Still 18, Wanjiru set a magnificent world junior record of 26:41.75 for 10,000m at the IAAF Golden League meeting in Brussels, finishing third behind Kenenisa Bekele’s brilliant world record of 26:17.53.

Then, just 15 days later, he smashed the World record for the half marathon, clocking a stunning 59:16 to win in Rotterdam, a second inside Tergat’s 1998 time from Milan. In doing so he beat the likes of Patrick Ivuti, Rodgers Rop and Kibet. Suddenly the athletics world was taking notice.

In 2007 he lowered the record again, twice, and had the first of a number of battles with Lel in the Lisbon half marathon. They met again at the Great North Run before Wanjiru ran a stunning Marathon debut in Fukuoka of 2:06:39.

It was then that he decided the Marathon was his race, and that he wanted to represent Kenya in Beijing, an ambition secured at the London Marathon when he and Lel led home one of the greatest race ever seen, Lel winning in 2:05:15 with Wanjiru just nine seconds behind.

Winning the Olympics would be a different matter, however – no pace makers, hot and humid conditions, and tactically astute opponents. They would have to prepare well.

In June Wanjiru moved back to Kenya with his wife and one-year-old child. “I trained in Kenya for this race because in Japan it was too hot,” he says. “I lived there for six years, studying mostly and running for a club (the Toyota Yushu Company).

“But now I will stay in Kenya because I want to be at home. In Japan I was training alone and when you are training alone you can’t be so strong.”

He and Lel have now become good friends and Lel pays tribute to his “great heart and courage at the end of a race”. “When I met him for the first time I realised at that time that he is a strong guy who can run very fast,” he says. “Whenever he’s there he fights hard and works and that is why I like him.”

The Olympic title in his bag, Wanjiru now has Haile Gebrselassie’s World record in his sights – he wants to break it at the Berlin Marathon next year – and may even return to the track with a few 10,000m races in Europe. For the time being though, he’s happy to enjoy his moment, and his new role as a symbol of the country’s peace.

“We had problems this year but now we have a good peace,” he says. “Everybody is at peace.”

Matthew Brown for the IAAF

Marathon Men     Final 23 September      
Rank Mark     Athlete Country NOC Birth Date Records
1 2.06.32     Samuel Wanjiru Kenya KEN 10 Nov 86  
2 2.07.16     Jaouad Gharib Morocco MAR 22 May 72  
3 2.10.00     Tsegaye Kebede Ethiopia ETH 15 Jan 87  
4 2.10.21     Deribe Merga Ethiopia ETH 26 Oct 82  
5 2.10.24     Martin Lel Kenya KEN 29 Oct 78  
6 2.10.35     Viktor Röthlin Switzerland SUI 14 Oct 74  
7 2.10.52     Asfaws Gashaw Melese Ethiopia ETH 26 Sep 78  
8 2.11.11     Yared Asmeron Eritrea ERI 3 Feb 79  
9 2.11.59     Dathan Ritzenhein United States USA 30 Dec 82  
10 2.12.33     Ryan Hall United States USA 14 Oct 82  
11 2.13.17     Mike Fokoroni Zimbabwe ZIM 10 Jan 77  
12 2.13.25     Stefano Baldini Italy ITA 25 May 71  
13 2.13.26     Tsuyoshi Ogata Japan JPN 11 May 73  
14 2.13.33     Grigoriy Andreyev Russia RUS 7 Jan 76  
15 2.13.39     Ruggero Pertile Italy ITA 8 Aug 74  
16 2.14.00     José Manuel Martínez Spain ESP 22 Oct 71  
17 2.14.22     Francis Kirwa Finland FIN 28 Nov 74  
18 2.14.37     Lee Myong-Seun South Korea KOR 14 Aug 79  
19 2.14.44     Janne Holmén Finland FIN 26 Sep 77  
20 2.15.00     Abderrahim Goumri Morocco MAR 21 May 76  
21 2.15.57     Aleksey V. Sokolov Russia RUS 14 Nov 79  
22 2.16.07     Brian Sell United States USA 11 Apr 79  
23 2.16.10     Ottaviano Andriani Italy ITA 4 Jan 74  
24 2.16.14     Dan Robinson Great Britain GBR 13 Jan 75  
25 2.16.17     Deng Haiyang China CHN 15 Oct 84  
26 2.17.42     Abderrahim Bouramdane Morocco MAR 1 Jan 78  
27 2.17.50     Vasyl Matviychuk Ukraine UKR 13 Jan 82  
28 2.17.56     Lee Bong-Ju South Korea KOR 11 Oct 70  
29 2.18.11     Oleg Kulkov Russia RUS 6 Mar 78  
30 2.18.15     Paulo Gomes Portugal POR 15 May 73  
31 2.18.26     Alex Malinga Uganda UGA 27 Jul 74  
32 2.18.40     Carlos Cordero Mexico MEX 7 Jan 77  
33 2.19.08     Ri Kum Song North Korea PRK 23 May 80  
34 2.19.43     Henryk Szost Poland POL 20 Jan 82  
35 2.20.15     José Amado García Guatemala GUA 13 Sep 77  
36 2.20.23     Yonas Kifle Eritrea ERI 24 Mar 77  
37 2.20.24     Saeed Nasar Sakar Bahrain BRN 26 Jan 78  
38 2.20.25     José de Souza Brazil BRA 22 Apr 71  
39 2.20.30     Kamiel Maase Netherlands NED 20 Oct 71  
40 2.21.16     Pak Song Chol North Korea PRK 10 Nov 84  
41 2.21.18     Iaroslav Muşinschi Moldova MDA 8 Aug 76  
42 2.21.51     Kim Il Nam North Korea PRK 15 Mar 80  
43 2.21.57     Juan Carlos Cardona Colombia COL 7 Sep 74  
44 2.22.43     Hendrick Ramaala South Africa RSA 2 Feb 72  
45 2.23.09     Arjun Kumar Basnet Nepal NEP 3 Dec 75  
46 2.23.20     Hélder Ornelas Portugal POR 6 May 74  
47 2.23.24     Procopio Franco Mexico MEX 8 Jul 70  
48 2.23.47     Nelson Cruz Cape Verde CPV 31 Dec 77  
49 2.23.54     Roberto Echeverría Chile CHI 23 Feb 76  
50 2.23.57     Kim Yi-Yong South Korea KOR 20 Sep 73  
51 2.24.08     Li Zhuhong China CHN 22 Oct 83  
52 2.24.19     Ser-Od Bat-Ochir Mongolia MGL 7 Oct 81  
53 2.24.28     Norman Dlomo South Africa RSA 18 Apr 75  
54 2.24.48     Arkadiusz Sowa Poland POL 2 Mar 79  
55 2.25.03     Samson Ramadhani Tanzania TAN 25 Dec 82  
56 2.25.11     Ndabili Bashingili Botswana BOT 28 Dec 79  
57 2.25.50     Simon Munyutu France FRA 27 Dec 77  
58 2.26.29     Toni Bernadó Andorra AND 9 Dec 66  
59 2.26.55     Wu Wen-Chien Chinese Taipei TPE 9 Jun 77  
60 2.27.17     Lee Troop Australia AUS 22 Mar 73  
61 2.28.04     Constantino León Peru PER 12 Apr 74  
62 2.28.14     Goran Stojiljković Montenegro MNE 13 Nov 79  
63 2.28.26     Alfredo Arévalo Guatemala GUA 20 Feb 76  
64 2.28.40     Youssef Othman Qader Qatar QAT 5 Apr 85  
65 2.29.05     Franklin Tenorio Ecuador ECU 30 Jun 69  
66 2.29.28     Francisco Bautista Mexico MEX 17 Sep 72  
67 2.29.37     Roman Kejžar Slovenia SLO 11 Feb 66  
68 2.29.55     Joachim Nshimirimana Burundi BDI 13 Jan 73  
69 2.30.07     Ayele Setegne Israel ISR 11 Apr 62  
70 2.30.26     Takhir Mamashayev Kazakhstan KAZ 24 Sep 79  
71 2.31.43     Abdil Ceylan Turkey TUR 30 Apr 83  
72 2.32.35     José Rios Spain ESP 15 Mar 74  
73 2.33.32     Bunting Hem Cambodia CAM 12 Dec 85  
74 2.35.06     Marcel Tschopp Liechtenstein LIE 28 Apr 74  
75 2.39.01     Pavel Loskutov Estonia EST 2 Dec 69  
76 2.41.08     Atsushi Sato Japan JPN 8 May 78  
  DNF     Tesfayohannes Mesfen Eritrea ERI 24 Nov 74  
  DNF     Julio Rey Spain ESP 13 Jan 72  
  DNF     Martin Fagan Ireland IRL 26 Jun 83  
  DNF     Mustapha Riyad Bahrain BRN 5 Aug 75  
  DNF     Ali Zaied Libya LBA 13 Jan 74  
  DNF     Marílson dos Santos Brazil BRA 6 Aug 77  
  DNF     Luke Kibet Kenya KEN 12 Apr 83  
  DNF     Abdulhak Zakaria Bahrain BRN 20 Jul 74  
  DNF     Luis Fonseca Venezuela VEN 3 Jun 77  
  DNF     Oleksandr Kuzin Ukraine UKR 21 Oct 74  
  DNF     Franck de Almeida Brazil BRA 6 Feb 83  
  DNF     Andrei Gordeev Belarus BLR 16 Aug 73  
  DNF     João N'Tyamba Angola ANG 20 Mar 68  
  DNF     Moeketsi Mosuhli Lesotho LES 5 Aug 81  
  DNF     Getulo Bayo Tanzania TAN 7 Jun 80  
  DNF     Mubarak Hassan Shami Qatar QAT 2 Dec 80  
  DNF     Tsotang Maine Lesotho LES 10 Aug 74  
  DNF     Mabuthile Lebopo Lesotho LES 12 Mar 81  
  DNF     Oleksandr Sitkovskyy Ukraine UKR 9 Jun 78  


Intermediate Athlete Country Mark
10 km 1. José Manuel Martínez  Spain 29:25
2. Deriba Merga  Ethiopia s.t.
3. Martin Lel  Kenya s.t.
4. Yared Asmerom  Eritrea s.t.
5. Yonas Kifle  Eritrea +0:01
20 km 1. Deriba Merga  Ethiopia 59:10
2. Yonas Kifle  Eritrea s.t.
3. Martin Lel  Kenya s.t.
4. Jaouad Gharib  Morocco s.t.
5. Samuel Kamau Wanjiru  Kenya s.t.
30 km 1. Deriba Merga  Ethiopia 1:29:14
2. Samuel Kamau Wanjiru  Kenya s.t.
3. Jaouad Gharib  Morocco +0:04
4. Martin Lel  Kenya +0:09
5. Yonas Kifle  Eritrea +0:15
40 km 1. Samuel Kamau Wanjiru  Kenya 1:59:54
2. Jaouad Gharib  Morocco +0:18
3. Deriba Merga  Ethiopia +1:57
4. Tsegay Kebede  Ethiopia +2:43
5. Martin Lel  Kenya +3:04




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