Christopher Isegwe of Tanzania leads the pack in the men's Marathon (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 15 August 2005 – Helsinki, Finland

Isegwe - a first for Tanzania

In what could well be remembered as one of the big surprises of the 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Tanzanian runner Christopher Isegwe won his country’s first ever medal in the 22-year history of the World Championships when finishing second in the marathon behind Morocco’s runaway champion Jaouad Gharib.

“I had huge expectations coming into these championships but winning a medal has really made me happy,” said Isegwe in Kiswahili speaking through an interpreter.

Running against some of the world’s finest marathoners, Isegwe bided his time in a large leading group for much of the opening 20kms. “There was nothing I could do at that moment because it was early on in the race,” he said.

But after winner Gharib set a punishing pace that dispersed the leading pack, only a handful of runners were able to follow the pace. Olympic champion Stefano Baldini tried to go along first, but he later dropped out. Ethiopian Gadisa Shentema also tried to respond to Gharib’s furious spurt of energy, but he too overexerted himself eventually finishing 13th. Isegwe, however, says that patience was his virtue. “I knew he couldn’t sustain the pace for the whole time and chose to wait until the later stages.”

By the 37th kilometre, Isegwe had waited enough and unleashed his own turn of speed that took him past Japan’s Tsuyoshi Ogata and to within 21 seconds off Gharib. At the end, Gharib comfortably defended his title, but Isegwe was only eleven seconds adrift of the winner. “When I moved ahead of the Japanese runner [Ogata], I knew that he couldn’t catch me.” Eventually, he finished the race in a new personal best time of 2:10.21.

Average runner going places

Born in Tanzania 29 years ago and not much for a runner as a child, Isegwe’s personal time of 2:10:56 came only this year when he finished second in the Beijing Marathon.

Encouraged by his run in the Chinese capital, the shy runner trained hard in Arusha with coach Francis John and a couple of his countrymen. Yet the 29-year old says he felt no pressure to perform in Helsinki. “I was not famous coming to Helsinki and did not care who was running with me,” he said.

But after one outstanding run and a well deserved silver medal, Isegwe now hopes that his achievement will not be a one-time feat. “This medal will give me encouragement to work hard for the future,” he said.

Isegwe added that his silver medal will also be well received by fellow Tanzanians back home. “I have done the nation proud,” said Isegwe. “This medal means a lot to my nation.”

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF