Where Your Dreams Become Reality
BALDINI CLAIMS SECOND EUROPEAN MARATHON TITLE
By David Monti
(c) 2006 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.
GÖTEBORG (13-Aug) -- The conditions were dramatically different from the scorching heat of Athens in 2004, but the result was the same: Stefano Baldini gets the gold.
At 35 years-old the charismatic Italian ran yet another perfect race in what has been one of the most illustrious marathon careers, ever. He now has two European Championship gold medals, one Olympic gold, and two World Championships bronze medals, to back up his Italian record of 2:07:22, just one of four of his sub-2:08 performances.
"After Athens I was thinking about a lot of things," said Baldini in English with great seriousness. "Also to retire." He said that at 35 years-old he needs to take a cautious approach to the sport. "I have to work step-by-step," he added.
"It is a very important victory in my career. I am going step by step toward the next Olympic Games where I want to defend my title from Athens. Today it was just the right way toward 2008."
Certainly the odds-on favorite on paper, Baldini was tested today by a herky-jerky race which saw many different leaders and paces, and a very strong, but not unexpected, challenge from the Swiss record holder, Viktor Röthlin. Baldini and Röthlin are friends and both did their final preparations for Göteborg in the rarefied air of St. Moritz, but not together. It was no secret that Röthlin was in the best shape of his life, and he showed that early in the race by taking the lead pack of 16 men through 5-K in 15:20, a sub-2:09:30 marathon pace.
"My big aim was to run in front all the time," Röthlin said later. The Swiss was tripped at the last European Championships Marathon, and finished a disappointing 16th. It had been his race plan to force the pace early and stay out of trouble. "I felt very comfortable," he added.
Under Röthlin's leadership, the lead group seemed to be safely away, but over the next 10 kilometers, the pace got progressively slower, allowing the second pack to catch up and putting an unmanagable 31 runners in the lead group. After 15-K was hit in 46:54 --a 2:12 marathon pace-- Luis Novo of Portugal surged ahead to shake things up. He built up a seven second lead, and the pack didn't seem to be reacting. But a few minutes later, Röthlin left Baldini and his teammate Francesco Ingargiola, Julio Rey of Spain, and Helder Ornelas of Portugal amongst others to try to catch Novo. He did quickly, and then went ahead alone.
"I tried to act and not react," Röthlin said, also saying that he wanted his rivals to be constantly aware of him as a threat.
Running alone, Röthlin hit the halfway mark in 1:05:30 with about a ten second lead. His move caused the main pack to shrink as they chased, and caught, him before 25-K. Baldini continued to run comfortably saving his energy for later.
"For today, was to be patient," said Baldini. "I was thinking about the right way to win."
Baldini would need to be patient. The pace would speed up, then slow down again. In fact, with the five kilometers from 25-K to 30-K going down in only 16:17, Dimitry Burmakin of Russia was able to catch the leading group, then take the lead himself. The race lacked leadership.
But Rey decided to step into the breach and get things moving again, a move which would ultimately be his undoing. The Spaniard, with his trademark sunglasses now off, surged hard and the lead pack was shattered. Only Baldini, Ingargiola, Röthlin and Ornelas remained in contact. But Rey was suffering with pain in the back of his legs, and he could see that the gold medal would not be possible.
"I was thinking of stopping," he said.
Just before 35-K, Baldini and Röthlin took control of the race, upping the pace quickly, and dropping Ornelas and Ingargiola in rapid succession and, eventually, Rey. They split 35-K in 1:49:13 (15:15 for the previous 5 km), and Ray was permanently behind and had a new worry: Luc Krotwaar of the Netherlands had been running his own race and had slowly caught up to Rey and Ingargiola. Up ahead, Baldini and Röthlin were running strongly, and by the 40-K mark they had an insurmountable 46 second lead over everyone else. The only question remained was who would win the gold?
Baldini settled the matter quickly. Just past 40-K he took off and Röthlin couldn't respond.
"I really had this hole in my stomach," said Röthlin, explaining that his carbohydrate stores were gone. The fact that Baldini began his acceleration at the fluid station just before 40-K meant that Röthlin couldn't drink slowly from his bottle to replenish himself.
With his characteristic forward lean and relaxed expression, Baldini made it to Ullevi Stadium and the finish line first, crossing in 2:11:32. Röthlin came home second in 2:11:50, the first-ever marathon medal for the Swiss at the European Championships. The Swiss felt like he had won the gold.
"I won the silver, but didn't lose the gold," he said.
Rey hit the track just ahead of Krotwaar, and had enough left to duplicate his bronze medal performance from the 2002 edition of these championships. He finished in 2:12:37 to the Dutchman's 2:12:44. Ingargiola held on to get fifth and the Italians won the European Cup team title.
For Baldini, the press asked him what was next, but he demurred. "I finished very good," he said slowly, "and next week we will decide."
Then scroll well down the page, past the white space to you see ATLETICA in upper case letters. Just below that, in blue letters click on "Le foto di Stefano" and a pop-up window will come up with a photo of the beginning of the race on the track at Ullevi Stadium. To the right of the photo under "Immagini" you can use the arrows to move from photo to photo.
Photo number 10 is from the Athens Olympics, I guess for context. Photo 14 is the podium, and 15 is Baldini showing off both his European Cup and individual championship medals.
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