It’s getting so that the pacemakers are as famous as the performers. And when you have Haile Gebrselassie and Gete Wami defending their titles in the real,- BERLIN-MARATHON on Sunday, that’s saying something. When news of Sonia O’Sullivan’s impending retirement from international athletics was announced earlier this year, few expected her to pop up in a marathon at the eleventh hour and 59 minutes. But, if she was going to have a last fling at the 42k, this was the one to do. Berlin has the flattest fastest course in the world, as the 2:04:55 world record of Paul Tergat here in 2003 testifies to. But if Sullivan’s name on the start list raised the eyebrows a fraction, the same eyebrows shot up into the scalp when the name of her pacemaker was added to the list. For it’s none other than Craig Mottram, former world bronze medallist at 5000 metres, and multi-Australian record holder.
What’s more, Mottram is competing in the Great North Run 3000 metres in Newcastle, in the north-east of the United Kingdom on Saturday afternoon. And the real,- BERLIN-MARATHON begins at 9 am on Sunday. “It’s going to be a bit of a rush,” said Mottram, by phone from his London base. “I’ve got a 3k road race, go straight to the airport, have to change flights, and get into Berlin at 11 o’clock at night. Then I have to be up early, so it’s not ideal. And I’m flying back to Australia on Monday. But Sonia’s given me a lot of help over the years. This is a way of giving a bit back, and hopefully she’ll continue to help me in future”.
“I wish I was up to taking advantage of a superstar pacemaker,” said O’Sullivan, who herself arrived in Berlin late Thursday evening. The Irishwoman - who also has Aussie nationality after marriage to Nic Bideau, who coaches both her and Mottram - admits that her marathon career didn’t quite measure up to her high expectations. A twice world cross champion on the same weekend in 1998, a world gold in 1995, and an Olympic silver medal in 2000, both at 5000 metres, she has run no faster than a 2.29.01 in London 2005. And at 37, does not expect to be anywhere near that on Sunday.
Bideau had said earlier in the week, he thought she would do between 2.35 and 2.45 in Berlin. To which O’Sullivan responded, “If I do 2.35, I’ll be overjoyed. I ran Dublin (Marathon) in 2000, after Sydney, without any long distance preparation, and did 2.35. So after training hard for New York in 2002, I expected to do much better, and in fact, I only did 2.32. So, it didn’t add up. I expected to be ten minutes faster. I never announced my retirement this year, it was sort of done for me. I went to the Great Irish Run in April, preparing to say it would be the last time I ran seriously in Ireland, and I got injured, and didn’t do well, so sort of forgot the retirement ‘thing’. But it got announced for me. I intended to come here two years ago, but got injured again. So I’m just here ‘collecting’ things I didn’t do during my career. This is one of the famous courses, that’s why I’m running.
“If anything, Craig is looking forward to it more than me. It was mostly his idea (to pace to 30k). We train together all the time, and we ran the Great North Run together last year, in 75 minutes, which was a half decent time. So he said he’d do the same thing for me here. He’s really excited. He’s never been in a major marathon field, and I think he wants to see what it’s like”.
Mottram picked up a hamstring injury two weeks before the recent World Championships, and although it was healed before Osaka, the lost training resulted in a 13th place in the 5000 metres for the Aussie, who had won bronze at the same distance in Helsinki two years ago. But after Beijing, he says he’ll consider running a marathon properly. “I’m doing the 5000 metres in Beijing, I’ve got some unfinished business there. But between Beijing and London, I’ll try a marathon, and if it works out, I may run the marathon in London 2012”.
Mottram isn’t the only famous name on the list of pacemakers in Berlin. One of the men taking Gebrselassie through 30 kilometres is Rodgers Rop of Kenya, another ‘superstar,’ by dint of his victories in the Boston and New York marathons in 2002. He also won Hamburg earlier this year. But unlike Mottram, who is helping out a pal, pacing Berlin is a means to two ends for Rop. “I’m doing my preparation for New York (November 4), so this fits in well. I want to come here (to race) next year, so I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the course. But it’s my ambition to win New York again first, and I think I’m capable of doing that”.