In a rare victory for a non-Kenyan in a major Marathon, Abdelkerim Boubker of Morocco won the Athens Classic Marathon on Sunday (13) morning, taking exactly one minute off the event record, with 2:11:40.
Boubker, 30, had to overcome more than the all-conquering Kenyans, and one of the toughest courses in the world. He also had to contend with some of the worst conditions in the 30 year history of the revived event. There was the expected tailwind off the Aegean Seas for some of the way on the road from Marathon to Athens, but the cold, wet and swirling breeze elsewhere more than cancelled any advantage, and with temperatures barely reaching 10C, it was a hard way to set a personal best in his fifth marathon.
Proof of Boubker’s quality run was the damage behind him. It looked in the early stages that defending champion, Raymond Bett of Kenya was running at the back of the group of six, simply pursuing the tactics that brought him victory and a race record last year. But he was first to drop off the lead group, at 23k, and like several of the other elite entry eventually dropped out.
Of the survivors following Boubker’s surge at 31k, Sammy Chumba of Kenya hung in longest, and finished second in 2:13:27. Daniel Gatheru of Ethiopia dropped off the lead group early, but fought back to finish third in 2:16:12. The Ukrainians, Andriy Naumov and Andrii Toptun were fourth and fifth; and Allan Ndiwa of Kenya, who shared the pace until 30k carried on to finish sixth in his marathon debut.
Boubker was well aware of the event history. “This is the highlight of my career,” he said through an interpreter. “I always felt good through the race, and became more and more confident that I could win. I prepared especially hard for this race. But to win this race, and finish in this stadium makes me very proud.”
Second placed Chumba summed up the difficulty of a course, which rises from the sea at Marathon, for almost half of the 42.195k of the distance to Athens. “I think I’m capable of 2:08 on another course,” said Chumba, who was five minutes slower here. “The Moroccans are not as strong collectively as the Kenyans, but he (Boubker) is strong, very strong.”
Boubker, a native of Casablanca, plans to race at home in Morocco for his next Marathon, in Marrakech at the end of January.
The women’s race was competitive to within view of the finish at the Panatheniko, the antique marble stadium, venue for the 1896 Olympic Games, for which the Marathon race was invented. Elfnesh Melaku of Ethiopia and Kamila Khanipova of Russia ran shoulder to shoulder for close to 42k, before Melaku sprinted away, to win in 2:35:25, with the Ukrainian just six seconds back. Amira Benamor of Tunisia was third in 2:42:15.
The pre-race celebrations included the lighting of the Olympic Flame in Marathon by Spiridon Louis, the grandson of the first Olympic marathon champion, after whom he is named. The concurrent IAAF/AIMS symposium, in the town of Marathon itself, concentrated this year on Health Matters and Medical Services for Long Distance Runners, and included speakers from marathons in Brazil, Austria, Spain and Greece.
Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Abdelkerim BOUBKER, MAR 2:11:40
2. Sammy CHUMBA, KEN 2:13:27
3. Daniel GATHERU, ETH 2:16:12
4. Andriy NAUMOV, UKR 2:17:32
5. Andrii TOPTUN, UKR 2:18:12
6. Allan NDIWA, KEN 2:18:16
1. Elfeneshe MELKAMU, ETH 2:35:25
2. Kamila KHANIPOVA, RUS 2:35:31
3. Amira BENAMOR, TUN 2:42:15
4. Alena VINNISTSKAYA, UKR 2:44:52
5. Sofia RIGA, GRE 2:45:43