Marathon Running: In Wanjiru’s Death, Have We Lost the Greatest?

Article first published as Marathon Running: In Wanjiru’s Death, Have We Lost the Greatest? on Technorati.

Sammy Wanjiru Wins the Marathon in Beijing

Marathon running really lost something last week with the passing of 24 year-old Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru. His astonishing rise to the top, now cut-short at such a young age. While the details of his death continue to be unraveled, we can only reflect on what could have been.

Samuel “Sammy” Wanjiru was simply an unbelievable runner. He set crowds afire when they saw him, he was so smooth and fast. At a race in Spain a few years ago (Visit YouTube to watch a crazy video shot on a bike by a fan.), Sammy streaked back into town opposite runners going the other direction, their cheers and chants of “Sammy” were thunderous.

Sammy Wanjiru was not only fast, he was naturally so. In his FIRST marathon appearance — his first attempt at the distance — he ran 2:06:39, which would turn out to be the slowest of his marathons, but already within two minutes of the then world record. He won the Olympic Marathon in Beijing on a hot day in 2:06:32, which would be a slow and strategic win.. His fastest marathons came in London and Chicago, where he ran 2:05:10 and 2:05:41, both in 2009.

While these were not world leading marks, he was still relatively inexperienced at the marathon distance. He had shredded the half-marathon world record, breaking it first by running 59:16 in 2005 at the age of just 18, and then crushing it again, running a 58:33 in 2007. This was a guy with the speed to go under 2:00:00 in the marathon and he knew it. He said so at the Granoller’s race in Spain in 2008, when he predicted that he’d break 2:00:00 within five years.
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Races — Lel, Adere Win 2010 Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon

running-advice-bugNew Orleans, LA -– Former World Half Marathon Champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia won the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon in New Orleans Sunday, clocking the fastest time ever run by a woman on American soil for the distance. Her 1:07:52 time bested the mark set by America’s Deena Kastor at the 2005 Philadelphia Distance Run by a single second. Adere, 36, needed to be at her best to hold off New Zealand’s Kim Smith, who finished a close second in 1:07:55, the third fastest half marathon ever run in the U.S. On the men’s side, three-time London Marathon champion Martin Lel of Kenya outpaced his countryman and half marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru by 26 seconds, winning with a time of 1:01:07.

The new Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon & ½ Marathon courses were designed not only to provide a comprehensive tour of post-Katrina New Orleans, but also to be fast. The elite performances validated the hype, with five out of the top six women running personal records. Adere’s winning time was a huge 25-second personal best for the former two-time Chicago Marathon champion. Smith’s second-place time was a New Zealand national record. Both of their efforts were helped by near-perfect weather conditions, as the day dawned sunny, dry, and windless, with a starting line temperature in the low 50s.

Though the top men ran a little slower than might have been expected, both Lel and Wanjiru have been logging heavy miles in training as each prepares for the April 25th Virgin London Marathon, where Wanjiru is the defending champion and course record holder. Nevertheless, after his win Lel said, “I felt very comfortable the whole way. I had good legs today.”

“My expectation was to win,” added Lel. “I think the race gives me good confidence on my preparation for the London Marathon. (New Orleans) was a very interesting city and the people were cheering, it really gave me a lot of energy.”
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Races — Martin Lel and Sammy Wanjiru to duel at New Orleans

running-advice-bugNew Orleans, LA -– This Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon & 1/2 Marathon will showcase perhaps the most dynamic half-marathon duel ever staged on American soil. 2008 Olympic Marathon gold medalist and half marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru will battle head-to-head against fellow Kenyan and three-time London Marathon champion Martin Lel. Both men set their sites on the April 25th Virgin London Marathon where Wanjiru broke Lel’s course record last year by five seconds.

The first Kenyan to ever win the Olympic Marathon Gold Medal, Wanjiru set the standing half-marathon world record of 58:33 in 2007 at the City-Pier-City Loop in The Hague, The Netherlands. That record marked the third time he had broken the world record at the 13.1-mile distance, having set his first mark at the age of 18.

“The timing of the Mardi Gras Half-Marathon is perfect for athletes like me who are preparing for a spring marathon,” said Wanjiru. “For me it’s a great opportunity to see where I am before London. Really, I am just looking to come and run a solid race and this gives me a great chance to see where I’m at and what condition I am in.”

“The timing of the Mardi Gras Half-Marathon is perfect for athletes like me who are preparing for a spring marathon,” said Wanjiru, who will face Lel in the upcoming London Marathon on April 25. “For me it’s a great opportunity to see where I am before London. Really, I am just looking to come and run a solid race and this gives me a great chance to see where I’m at and what condition I am in.”
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Races — Wanjiru sets course record in Chicago, misses world mark

running-advice-bugCHICAGO — Young Kenyan runner Sammy Wanjiru had hoped to set a World Record in the marathon this weekend. In winning the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, he ran both the fastest time ever on American soil and set a Chicago Marathon course record, but he missed the world mark over a minute and a half.

On a cold morning–33 degrees at the 7:30 start–many of the runners complained that the temperatures were too low to generate a world mark and they were correct. The 22 year-old Olympic gold medalist at the Beijing Games won the race in 2:05:41.

Wanjiru barely set the course record, beating the previous mark by only one second. The old mark of 2:05:42 was set by Khalid Khannouchi in 1999 and was a world record at that time. The current world mark of 2:03:59 was set by Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie in Berlin on Sept. 28, 2008.

Wanjiru was tracking close to world record pace through the first half. He passed the 13.1 mile mark at 1:02:01, putting him 4 seconds behind world record pace if he had kept it up through the second half. He dropped fellow Kenyans Vincent Kipruto and Charles Munyeki at the 35KM mark, which he passed at 1:43:58. He missed the world record (2:03:59) by one minute and forty-two seconds — which is about 17th on the list of history’s fastest times. Wanjiru’s personal best is 2:05:10, set at the 2008 London Marathon.
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Racing — Wanjiru, Grigoryeva to compete in Chicago Marathon 2009

running-advice-bugCHICAGO, IL — 2008 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Sammy Wanjiru (KEN) has announced he will make his first U.S. appearance at the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in an attempt to better his current personal marathon record (2:05:10). Wanjiru has run two sub-2:06 marathons in his first four marathon starts.

[For information on the television and Internet broadcast of the 2009 Chicago Marathon, click here.]

“My plan for the fall is to lower my personal record and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon course offers the best opportunity for me to achieve that this year,” said Wanjiru from Kenya. “My only focus between now and October is to prepare and train aggressively for my best performance yet.”

Wanjiru has quickly made a name for himself in the world of distance running, first capturing the half marathon world record in 2005, lowering it in 2007 and winning three of the four marathons in which he has competed. His Olympic gold medal performance last summer in Beijing was the first ever for a Kenyan athlete in the marathon and marked his first World Marathon Majors (WMM) victory. This spring, he captured a second consecutive WMM win with his fastest time yet at the 2009 London Marathon (2:05:10).

“Sammy is certainly the athlete to watch in this sport right now and we are honored to be able to host him at such a pivotal point in his career,” said Carey Pinkowski, Executive Race Director for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. “We have had the pleasure of witnessing four previous world records in Chicago and if conditions are right, the enthusiastic sports fans in this city could have the opportunity to see that again.”
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Races — Lel and Goucher show their stuff at Libson Half-Marathon

LISBON — In what appears to have been a major tune-up race for many athletes preparing for next month’s London and Boston Marathons, Martin Lel and Kara Goucher showed that they are in top form. The two won the men’s and women’s races respectively, in front of top elite fields.

Lel took the overall title in 59:54 with Goucher winning by 30 seconds over the women’s field in 1:08:30.

Also showing that he is in top form was Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot of Kenya, the multi-year Boston Marathon champ, who cruised home to third in 1:00:02.

World record holder Sammy Wanjiru was the biggest surprise as he finished seventh in 1:01:23. Wanjiru has twice set the world half-marathon record, but did not compete in last year’s world championships, citing his recovery progress and training status after the Olympics. He has been quoted as hoping to run a world record in the marathon in Berlin later this year.

Goucher, third in last fall’s New York marathon on her debut at the distance, fought off the challenges of the Kenyan pair of Alice Timbilili and Jane Kiptoo – who clocked 1:09:00 and 1:09:07 respectively.
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Video — Sammy Wanjiru at Granoller’s Half Marathon

BARCELONA — A reader sent me a link to a video that he produced of Sammy Wanjiru en route to winning the Ganoller’s Half Marathon on February 1st, 2009. Wanjiru broke away from a his only remaining challenger at kilometer 8 and cruised back to a huge victory of over a minute to finish in 1:01:13.

The young Wanjiru is the current world record holder at the half marathon distance, which he ran in 58:33 in 2007. Wanjiru went on to win the Olympic Marathon in a new Olympic Record for the marathon distance this past summer in Beijing.

YouTube Preview Image

What’s great about this video are the shots as Wanjiru is coming back to town all alone with the streams of runners going the other direction cheering for him. You will clearly get a sense of how fast he is running and what a rush he must have felt having the crowds cheer him in alone.

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Races: Martin Lel heads all-star field for 2009 London Marathon

2009 London Marathon

2009 London Marathon

LONDON — Reigning champion Martin Lel will return to defend his Flora London Marathon title on April 26th, 2009 against one of the strongest fields ever assembled for a big city race.

After victories in 2005, 2007 and 2008, Lel is aiming to become the first man to win four London Marathons and only the second man to win three in a row, following the Mexican Dionicio Ceron who had three straight victories between 1994 and 1996.

“It’s wonderful to be coming back to London,” said the 30-year-old Kenyan. “I have great memories from my last three victories and will be doing my best to put my name in the record books with a fourth win.”

Last year Lel set a superb course record of 2:05:15, making him the fourth quickest marathon runner ever.

But with all three Olympic medallists from Beijing, a former world record holder, the first four from London last year, two other previous London champions, and a much-fancied debutant in the field, this could be the Kenyan’s toughest test yet.

Chief among his challengers will be Sammy Wanjiru whose victory at the Beijing Olympic Games was described by some as the greatest marathon performance of all time. The 22-year-old Kenyan will have high hopes of improving on his second place last year when he finished just nine seconds behind his older compatriot.
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Races: amazing field to meet at 2008 New York City Marathon

NEW YORK CITY — An elite field that can be described as nothing less than amazing will assemble this weekend to fight out the New York City Marathon in the streets of the biggest city in the United States. With nearly 40,000 runners behind them, most of the fastest runners in the world will be on-hand to duke it out for the championship.

Rather than starting with the list of who will be running in the event, let me start with who will be missing; its a shorter list to be sure. Martin Lel, New York City (’07) and London (’07 & ’08) winner unfortunately broke his foot in a race recently and will not be in the field. Haile Gebreslassie set a world record last month in Berlin and will pass on New York. Sammy Wanjiru, the Beijing Olympic Champion and record holder, is still recovering from that outing, as are the top American runners Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell.

On the women’s side, most of the top women will be represented with the noted exception of Constantina Tomescu-Dita, winner of the Beijing Olympic Marathon, who ran in Chicago three weeks ago.

With those exceptions aside, the field includes an array of past champions and current and former world record holders.

World’s fastest women
Perhaps the biggest match-up will be on the women’s side, as Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25), current world record holder, fights it out with Catherine Ndereba (2:18:47) and Gete Wami (2:21:34). This match-up is perhaps closer than it looks on paper as Radcliffe and Wami went toe-to-toe in this race last year, Radcliffe is still recovering from injuries and Ndereba just finished second in the Beijing Olympics. This could, in fact, be the match-up of all match-ups.
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Racing: Tadese and Kiplagat win 2008 World Half Marathon Championships

Zersenay Tadese wins 08 World Half Marathon Championship

Zersenay Tadese wins 08 World Half Marathon Championship

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — Zersenay Tadese of Ethiopia and Lorna Kiplagat of the Netherlands won World Half Marathon Championship titles which were held in conjunction with the 2008 Rio de Janeiro Half Marathon this weekend. For Tadese it was his third straight victory, while Kiplagat defended her title for the second straight year.

Both runners won their races by wide-margins, with Tadese leading the overall race from the 5KM mark all the way through to the finish. Tadese won the race in 59:56 with his next closest finisher coming in nearly two minutes behind him in 1:01:54. Kiplagat bested her next closest finisher by one and a half-minutes, finishing in 1:08:37 with second place finishing in 1:09:57.

Half-marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya did not race at the world championships. He decided several weeks ago that he needed more recovery from his Gold Medal performance at the Beijing Olympic Games before competing again.

Tadese won the first prize of US$30,000 in a time of 59:56, with 2007 silver medallist Patrick Makau Musyoki second in 1:01:54, anb Qatar’s Ahmad Hassan Abdullah, the 2004 bronze medallist, taking third (1:01:57).
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