Remembering Emil Zátopek At The Prague Marathon
Prague, Thursday, May 6, 1430gmt
'If you want to run, run a hundred metres; if you want to experience another life, run a marathon'
When the great Emil Zatopek dredged that aphorism out of the sweat and effort of a marathon debut that won him a third Olympic gold, in Helsinki 1952, he cannot have forseen the thousands of ordinary mortals who would follow his example as they trawl up and down the banks of the Vltava River in his adopted home city of Prague in Sunday's 16th annual race.
On one of the last occasions that your correspondent was graced with the Bohemian born Zata's company at this event a dozen years ago, there was no slur intended in the old legend's musing, "women are running faster than I ever did," it was simply wonder at the impact the event had made in the decades since his retirement.
Zata is no longer with us, but his shade will doubtless be ghosting along the Vltava on Sunday morning, for the biggest race in the brief history of the event.
The Volkswagen Prague Marathon was late off the mark in terms of international big city marathons; but run through the baroque splendour of one of Europe's most beautiful capitals, with the start and finish in the dreamy Old Town Square, it has become one of the most attractive fixtures on the marathon circuit, proof of which is that over 50% of the 7500 entrants (25% up on last year) come from abroad.
Representation at the sharp end is even more impressive.
Patrick Ivuti of Kenya returns to defend the title he won last year in 2.07.48, which took over a minute off the previous record, and was just five seconds shy of his all-time best.
A winner in Chicago 2007, in a heatwave, Ivuti, 31 is likely to find more temperate conditions here, but the opposition, particularly Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia may be harder to combat.
No relation to the namesake who won London a week ago ("but we are friends, we train together"), Tsegay, 25 was third in the half marathon here a month ago, a performance he insisted today (Thursday) that he was more than satisfied with.
"Because it was only two weeks after I won (Lake) Biwa in Japan, so I was very pleased to run so well after a hard 42k. At 30k (in Japan), we were on 2.06 pace, but the rain, it had been raining all day, increased, stronger and stronger, and really slowed me down".
Nevetheless, he won in 2.09.34, to add to his fourth place in the IAAF World Championships in Berlin last summer, and his top-class personal best 2.06.30 in Paris last Spring.
The fastest man in a field which boats ten sub-2.10 men in Sammy Korir, whose2.04.56 in Berlin 2003 was bettered only by colleague Paul Tergat's world record, a stride and a second ahead.
Korir was also the first man to clock up ten sub-2.09s, but is probably past his best, which leaves another colleague Charles Kibiwott as next fastest, at 2.06.52, and likely to be a closer contender.
Race director Carlo Capalbo would dearly like to see a reappraisal of the women's record, despite it belonging to Italian compatriot Maura Viceconte with her 2.26.33 in 2001.
There are five women faster on paper, and the one most likely to set that, if not in stone, then in writing for at least a year, is Helena Kirop of Kenya, whose best is 2.24.54, in Dubai in January.
Kirop is one of the more unusual Kenyan athletes, woman or man. Along with husband Peter Lomuria, a 2.13 marathoner, they have set up the Helena Kirop Foundation, an educational charity dedicated to the nurturing of young girls from poor families in their respective Turkana and Pokot tribal areas.
With a mission like that, it's not simply her aggressive running that merits her success. But that won't stop veteran Lyubov Morgunova of Russian (2.25.12) trying, nor indeed her compatriots, Alevtina Ivanova (2.26.38) and Laria Zyuzko (2.26.26), nor Kirop's colleague Rose Cheruiyot (2.25.48), nor yet the Ethiopian pair, Ashu Kasim (2.25.49) and Eyerusalem Kuma (2.26.51).