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Friday, August 10, 2012

Kenya’s Late Sammy Wanjiru Casts Shadow Over Men’s Marathon

Kenya's Sammy Kamau Wanjiru won the gold during the men's marathon at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Wanjiru died in Kenya last year in an alcohol-related accident. (AP)

Kenya’s Sammy Kamau Wanjiru won the gold during the men’s marathon at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Wanjiru died in Kenya last year in an alcohol-related accident. (AP)

The Olympics wrap up Sunday in London with the men’s marathon. Four years ago in Beijing the late Sammy Wanjiru ran away with the race, pushing the pace on a brutally hot day in Beijing, winning the marathon in Olympic record time.

Wanjiru died last year when he fell from a balcony at his home in Kenya after a night of drinking, but his shadow falls over this weekend’s race.

“Sammy Wanjiru’s victory in Beijing actually catapulted the Kenyans to a new level,” Runners World’s editor-at-large Amby Burfoot told Here and Now. “And everybody in that country has been running faster since 2008 and they all give a lot of credit to Wanjiru. So they will be running with his memory in their hearts. And I think that could make them even stronger.”

Wanjiru was the first Kenyan to win the men’s Olympic marathon but he won’t be the last.

The field on Sunday includes Kenyans Wilson Kipsang (best marathon time 2:03:42), Abel Kirui (2:05:04) and Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40). They will certainly be challenged by Ethiopians Ayele Abshero (2:04:23), Dino Sefer (2:04:50) and Getu Feleke (2:04:50).

But it will be interesting to see how they handle the unusual London course, which features lots of corners and cobblestones and not a lot of opportunities for flat-out running.

The Americans, Ryan Hall (2:06:17), Meb Keflezigihi (2:09:08) and Abdi Abdirahman (2:08:56) have the credentials to compete here, but you wonder if they will stay with the leaders when the break comes, and it always does.

Last Sunday in the women’s race, the break came at around 14 miles and it was a five-women race after that, then a four-women race and finally a three-women race.

Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana sprinted down the Mall to the win the gold.

American runners Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher were 10th and 11th, respectively.

There’s one runner in Sunday’s men’s marathon who will be running without a country to call his own. Guor Marial will compete under the banner of the Olympic flag.

Marial is from what is now South Sudan, which doesn’t have an Olympic team. He lost many family members to the civil unrest that devastated Sudan and led to the new nation last year.

Eventually Marial made it to Egypt and finally to the US. He went to high school in Concord, New Hampshire and earned a scholarship to Iowa State, where he was an All American in cross country.  He says running in the Olympics gives voice to the South Sudanese.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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