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BEIJING 2008 : MEN'S MARATHON

Kenyan takes gold in record time

August 24, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- America's marathoners are getting faster.

Problem is, so are those from the rest of the world.

Samuel Kamau Wansiru set a blistering pace from the start today, wearing down the quickest Olympic field in history to win the marathon and become the first Kenyan to claim a gold medal in the event.

U.S. runners Dathan Ritzenhein and Ryan Hall, though they were the first Americans in 34 years to run better than 2:13:00, finished ninth and 10th, respectively.

Beneath a blazing sun, Wansiru chopped nearly three minutes off the Olympic record, finishing in 2 hours 6 minutes 32 seconds -- 44 seconds ahead of silver medalist Jaouad Gharib of Morocco. Ethiopia's Tsegay Kebede was third in 2:10.00.

"I was hoping to be up in the front and make a move at some point. But I wasn't able to get to the front because of how quick it was, the early pace," said Hall, the Olympic trials champion from Big Bear who finished in 2:12:33, 34 seconds behind Ritzenhein, who lives in Eugene, Ore.

Brian Sell of Woodbury, Pa., finished 22nd in 2:16:07.

"Once you get to 25, 30 kilometers and you don't see the lead vehicle anymore, it's hard to stay positive," Hall said.

Despite conditions that caused nearly a quarter of the field to drop out, a large pack stuck close to Kenya's Martin Lel as he went through the first 15 kilometers in a rapid 44:36 and passed the halfway point in 1:02:34, not far off world-record pace.

"I had to push the pace," said Wansiru, who hung just off Lel's shoulder. "In the heat, it was hard."

By then, Ritzenhein was 80 seconds back, while Hall was half a minute behind him -- yet both were running fast enough to break the Olympic record.

"It was ridiculous," Ritzenhein said. "I tried to hold it together as much as possible. And everything was going exactly how I had planned until about 25 [kilometers]. Then I just started cramping."

Despite all that, Hall and Ritzenhein are the first two Americans to finish in the top 10 in an Olympic marathon since the 1970s, when Frank Shorter won the gold and a silver in consecutive Games and two others finished fourth: Kenny Moore (in Munich) and Don Kardong (in Montreal).

"The difference is these guys run 2:06 in crazy conditions," Hall said. "We have our work cut out for us. I need to work on some things if I'm going to be competitive with these guys."

"Every time out you don't get medals, I guess," said Ritzenhein, who broke a bone in his foot in February and wasn't even running on the roads 12 weeks ago. "But Ryan and I are 25 years old. We're still so young for this sport. This is going to be a big learning experience for us.

"I think I ran my best marathon yet, without a doubt."

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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