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Olympics: Baldini wins marathon, Keflezighi takes silver while bronze medal winner Lima is stopped by an Irish priest

2004-08-30

The very last event of the Olympic Games in Athens ended with a major surprise. Italian Stefano Baldini won the marathon in a time of 2:10:55. But the event had seen a major upset. At 36 k a spectator ran onto the road and stopped the leading runner Vanderlei Lima. After a short break the Brazilian was able to continue the race and won a bronze medal in 2:12:11. Another surprise was US-runner Mebrahtom Keflezighi who finished second in 2:11:29. If Lima had not been stopped he would most probably still not have won the gold medal. Because in the last part of the race Baldini and Keflezighi ran much faster than the Brazilian.

The classic race was run on almost the same route as 108 years ago, from Marathon to Athens’ Panathinaiko Stadium. Just before the half marathon mark (67:22 minutes) Vanderlei Lima took over the lead. The winner of this year’s Hamburg Marathon who had a personal best of 2:08:31 had not been regarded as a candidate for the gold medal. So the favourites did not bother much about his attack. But in temperatures of up to 30 ° Celsius in the shade (still not as warm as in the women’s event) Lima really ran away from the chasing group. At 30 k he had an advantage of 46 seconds.

But at this stage Baldini, Keflezighi, world record holder Paul Tergat (Kenya), who later finished tenth, and world champion Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) clearly increased their pace. They soon closed in on Lima. At 35 k the 35 year-old was leading by only 29 seconds. Soon after that mark a spectator stormed onto the road. “Suddenly he appeared in front of me and pushed me to the roadside where he held me”, Vanderlei Lima later reported. Spectators were then helping the runner and he could continue his race without being harmed.

“Who knows – perhaps I could have won if this would not have happened. I was afraid when he stopped me because I did not know what he was going to do. It was then difficult to get back into the rhythm”, Lima said. He lost may be ten seconds. But in the end Lima finished 1:16 minutes behind Baldini and 42 seconds behind Keflezighi. It would have been a tragedy if he would have missed a medal by a couple of seconds. But in the end Vanderlei Lima ran into Panathinaiko Stadium celebrating his bronze medal. “I am really happy to have won this medal”, he said.

Later there was a meeting by the IAAF and finally the IOC announced that Lima was going to be awarded with a special honorary medal in addition to the bronze medal.

From now on Lima will be a part of the Olympic marathon history – as well as the Italian winner. “It is a fantastic story to win the marathon here in Athens. Panathinaiko Stadium is the home of marathon running”, Stefano Baldini explained. By winning he had denied second placed Mebrahtom Keflezighi the highest bonus of his life. Marathon organisers of New York and Chicago had promised a 500,000 $ bonus for a US marathon winner. Keflezighi missed this money by 35 seconds.

English journalists later said they identified the man who stopped Lima. He is said to be an Irish priest who has done similar things on at least two occasions. He is said to have stopped the British Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone last year by running onto the course. Additionally he is said to have done so at an Irish horse racing event.


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