Abera wins marathon for Ethiopia

 

Reuters- 1 October 2000

By Mitch Phillips

 

Gezahgne Abera won the men's Olympic marathon on Sunday, 1 October to complete an almost total Ethiopian domination of the distance events at the Games despite falling on his way to victory. The 22-year-old recovered from a tumble after 17 kilometres to take the lead in the last seven alongside compatriot Tesfaye Tola and Kenyan Eric Wainaina, the 1996 marathon bronze medallist.

 

But after Wainaina accelerated to break Tola, Abera stepped up the pace further over the final 2km to win by 90 metres in 2 hours 10.11 minutes. Wainaina was second in 2:10.31 with Tola holding off Briton Jon Brown to take bronze in 2:11.31 in only his fourth marathon.

 

The victory in the final event of the Games completed a marvellous programme for the Ethiopian distance runners.

 

Haile Gebrselassie won the men's 10,000m, Derartu Tulu the women's 10,000m and Millon Wolde the men's 5,000m. They also picked up a silver and three bronze.

 

It was Ethiopia's first marathon success since 1968 when Mamo Wolde's gold in Mexico City followed up Abebe Bikila's back-to-back triumphs.

 

"It is the start of a new upsurge," Abera said.

 

In Sunday's race the three medallists were always in the main pack as the 98-man field set off from North Sydney at 4pm local time.

 

Surprise early leader

 

The surprise early leader was Botswanan Tiaypo Maso who was almost a minute and a half ahead of the pack at 10km.

 

The temperature was a relatively comfortable 21 degrees celsius, but blustery winds, combined with a tough, hilly course soon ended Maso's moment in the spotlight.

 

He was swallowed up by a group of 20 soon after halfway and went on to finish 77th in 2:38.53.

 

The real race then began as the runners approached Anzac Bridge and a hit a tough hill, immediately stringing them out. Wainaina, Gezahgne and Tola started to wind it up and a series of runners dropped off the back, one of them being Martin Fiz of Spain, fourth in Atlanta.

 

His heavily-fancied teammate Abel Anton, double world champion, was never in contention and nor was Portuguese hope Antonio Pinto.

 

By 32 km only Brown was able to stay with the three Africans but he dropped off approaching the 35 km mark to leave the lead trio to fight it out for the medals.

 

Wainaina, controversially selected in July after Kenyan officials dropped all three of their original choices for not training hard enough, put another burst in at the 38km mark which was too much for Tola.

 

However, Abera stayed with him and then hit the front himself approaching 40km and quickly opened a telling 15-metre lead and had stretched that to 90 by the time he crossed the line.

 

Abera said his fall was caused by the strong winds causing the pack to bunch too tightly together.

 

"I hurt my knee a little but only lost about 20 metres so it wasn't too bad," he said.

 

Once back at the front, Abera set about planning an Ethiopian victory with Tola.

 

"We had to work out how to manage Eric because he kept putting in bursts of pace," he said. "But we always try to work together."

 

Abera sat safely at the back of the trio, sheltered from the buffeting winds, and when Tola decided he could no longer keep up he told his teammate to go ahead alone, which he duly did.

 

Wainaina did his utmost to win it from the front but eventually ran out of steam.

 

"Nobody wanted to take the lead because of the wind but I was feeling great so I decided to go for it," he said. "But in the end he was too strong."

 

 

 

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