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News Archive

Kenyans hope for fast race in Belgrade Marathon

Throughout the 1990s, just about the only good news to come out of war-torn

Yugoslavia was the Belgrade Marathon.  Against all the odds - sanctions, closure

of the airport, strict visa controls, raging inflation and general mayhem - the

organisers kept both the marathon and the elite Belgrade Race Through History on

the road.

Then when everything seemed ripe to develop the event at the turn of the

century, a dispute between the organisers and the city council threw the race

off course for three years. But, after protracted negotiations, and the backing

of the IAAF and IAMS, the original organisers are back in thew driving seat, and

so eager to prove their worth that they have managed to get the marathon back on

the road inside just two months. And also to get an impressive array of sponsors

to back them.

The race is now entitled the Belgrade Delta Sports Marathon, and the team led by

Dejan Nikolic is working flat-out to make this 18th edition of the event a

success. Nikolic's big coup was to get as president of the new company Alexandr

"Sasha" Djordjevic, probably the biggest sports star in Serbia, captain of a

national basketball team which won Olympic, world and European titles.

"It was a combination of having the IAAF and AIMS behind us, then someone like

Sasha backing us that won the day," says Nikolic. "We are at the beginning of a

new era. I'm not saying that everything will be perfect this time round, given

the short lead-in, but we'll be aiming to do better with October's Race Through

History. Nevertheless, it would be nice to get a new men's course record

(currently 2 hr 12min 27sec)".

Favourite to do that is Isaac Kiprono of Kenya, whose recent performance was

second in Padova, Italy last year, but whose fastest time came in Rotterdam

2001, when he ran 2.09.59. Isaac is the younger brother of Josephat Kiprono

(2.06.50 in Berlin), and Luke Kibet (2.10.00). It's not the Kenyan way to make

predictions, but Kiprono ventured, "If the temperature and pacing is good, I

would hope to run fast". Among the other Kenyans present, the consensus is that

Onesmus Kilonzo, second in Beijing 2002 is the man in form.

The winner will receive the Fred Lebow Trophy, named after the founder of the

New York Marathon, who was born in nearby Transylvania, and who was a big

supporter of Belgrade's development. There is a parallel trophy for local

runners, named after Franjo Mihalic, Olympic marathon silver medallist in 1956,

and the only Serbian winner of the International Cross Country the following

year. Mihalic is 85, and competed in the 10k fun-run until his late seventies.

Marathon week began last Saturday with the Children's Race, 200 metres around

the Elephant Compound at Belgrade Zoo. Eighteen thousand five and six year olds

from every kindergarten in the city compete in knock-out tournaments in

preceding weeks, and 150 went into the grand final, with Nikola Kaip sprinting

out the winner.

Belgrade has a long tradition of inviting former athletics stars - not

necessarily marathoners - as guests. And luminaries from Mihalic's great rival

Emil Zatopek to Bob Beamon and Sergey Bubka have enjoyed Balkan hospitality.

This year's eagerly anticipated arrival is sprinter Merlene Ottey, now living in

and competing for neighbouring Slovenia. Unlike her erstwhile rival, Florence

Griffith-Joyner, who once rashly predicted that she would run a marathon, Ottey

resolutely says, "No way, it's 42 kilometres too far". Fortunately, there will

be thousands in Belgrade this weekend who will demonstrate otherwise.