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News15 Apr 2011

Maluni and Seboka the favourites in Belgrade


John Maluni edges Nicholas Chelimo in Belgrade (© Dragan Bajic)

Belgrade, SerbiaFunrunners everywhere, not just those in Sunday’s Belgrade Marathon should take a page out of guest of honour, Rosa Mota’s book, ie, do it when it counts, then just take it easy and enjoy what follows. The most successful woman marathoner in history will do the accompanying 5k fun-run on Sunday, and jog around at the back as she frequently does back at home in Portugal.

“If I try to run hard, I find my head is faster than my legs,” says Mota. “It’s good to see there is a marathon and a fun-run. Not everyone can do a marathon, but everyone can do a fun-run. We are doing it for our health, and with the charities, we are doing it to help people as well.”

The Portuguese has the distinction of being the first major international women’s champion, winning the inaugural European title – on the Marathon to Athens course, what’s more – in 1982. She took the Olympic and world titles (as well as an Olympic bronze and world fourth place), plus two more European titles, in addition to winning Boston and Chicago twice each, with further victories in London, Rotterdam, Tokyo and Osaka.

With all those achievements, Mota is secure enough in her own history, to jog at the back with friends, and enjoy the experience of seeing people look back at her, get on their mobile phones, and tell friends and family, “I must be running well today; I just passed Rosa.”

The Belgrade Marathon itself has been by-passed to a large extent in recent years. The Balkan wars across the turn of the century and the subsequent economic problems following the dissolution of Yugoslavia have prevented it developing as most marathons have done in this recent boom for mass participation in distance running.

But the organisers have hung in there, and having successfully reintroduced their unusual Belgrade Race Through History last October – around the grounds of the city’s Kalemedgan Fortress – have finally got a commitment from the national and local government and tourist boards to develop an event, the Marathon, which everyone admits is the most celebrated sports event in Serbia. No mean feat for a soccer and basketball (and, lately, tennis) crazy nation.

Sunday’s 24th Belgrade Marathon, says race director Dejan Nikolic will be the prelude to a celebration for next year’s 25th anniversary. “We’ve got secure backing from the City of Belgrade, and from the Ministry of Youth and Sport for Serbia. We can really start to plan ahead now.”

The event has largely been the province of the Kenyans in the past, and returning winner John Maluni, 2:11:53 in 2007, hopes to keep it that way. But there is a strong Ethiopian contingent this year, headed by Tesfaye Bekele, who ran 2:09:45 at altitude at home in Awasa earlier this year. His colleague Gebrselassie Tsegaye has run one second faster.

The women’s race, equally looks set to be dominated by Ethiopians, with sub-2:30 woman Mulu Seboka a marginal favourite over compatriot, Meseret Hailu (2:30:10).

Local hero, Olivera Jevtic runs the Half Marathon, hoping to break her course record of 1:11:41. She has run over two minutes faster in Serbia’s second city, Novi Sad. But Kenyan, Lydia Njeri’s more recent 1:10:08, from Berlin 2009, suggests that the Serb will have a race on her hands. Njeri’s colleagues, Wilson Kiprotich, with 59:23, and Robert Wambua, 1:01:00 in the recent City-Pier-City race in The Hague should have the men’s race to themselves.

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF
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