Africans dominate marathon

Tanzania’s Zebedayo Bayo won the Athens Marathon yesterday, as African runners dominated the race used as a rehearsal for the showcase event at the 2004 Olympics. Bayo completed the ancient route that gave the race its name in 2 hours, 16 minutes, 59 seconds. Sprinting to the finish line, he held off Kenya’s Stephen Rugut, who came in 7 seconds behind him. Kenyan Elias Chebet finished third in 2:18:22. Yesterday’s run was used by Athens 2004 Olympic organizers to test preparations – including security, refreshment stations along the course and press facilities – for the August 13-29 Games. The 27-year-old Bayo, who won the Tokyo Marathon in February, said his experience running against the wind on Athens’s tough course could be valuable. Nadja Wijenberg of the Netherlands surprised herself to win the women’s event in 2:43:18, after using the race as a training run only to end up leading the field for the final 10 kilometers. She beat Greek veteran Georgia Abatzidou and first-time Kenyan marathon runner Margaret Karie. Runner-up Abatzidou warned that international marathon stars should try the classic course – mostly uphill for the first 32 kilometers and downhill for the last 10 – before the games. «Many of the favorites could be in for a shock. This isn’t like the courses they’re used to,» she said. Some 3,500 participating athletes passed roadwork and construction sites on their southward run to the city which is working round-the-clock to have venues and transport systems ready. The 2004 event will have some important differences to the annual Athens race, with about 100 runners taking part next year and the fierce summer heat to contend with. The starting time in 2004 has been switched to the evening to try and keep runners cool. Yesterday’s run was also used as a test for the September 17-28 Paralympics, with 22 blind and partially sighted athletes taking part. Blind runner Andrea Cionna of Italy – aided by a guide runner – won his category, clocking 2:56:15.