Sunday August 24 2008

Samuel Wanjiru breaks the tape in victory during the Olympics marathon race in 2008. Wanjiru won the Chicago marathon on Sunday. Photo/FILE

Samuel Wanjiru breaks the tape in victory during the Olympics marathon race in 2008. Wanjiru won the Chicago marathon on Sunday. Photo/FILE 

By ELIAS MAKORI in Beijing

Kenya’s first Olympic Games marathon gold medallist, Samuel Kamau Wanjiru, spoke exclusively to the Daily Nation and NTV on how he won the Beijing Olympics marathon

I could hardly sleep last (Saturday) night. I was thinking about Sunday’s race. The funny thing is that when I met Martin (Lel) and Luke (Kibet), all of us came to realize that none of us slept at all. We were all thinking about the big race.

On Sunday, I had met with my coach from Japan (Katsuchi Fuchiwaki) and Stephen Mayaka (Kenya-born Japanese coach) to discuss the race’s tactics.

At the starting point I talked to Martin and Luke and we agreed that we must take the gold medal. That was all that mattered to me. I did not think I’d win but I was confident of a Kenyan 1-2-3 finish. I knew Martin would win the race because he has a strong finishing kick.

The fact that we had beaten Ethiopia in the overall medals standings last (Saturday) night when Wilfred Bungei and Nancy Jebet Langat won gold in the 800m and 1,500m, I was even more inspired to perform well in the marathon.

Slow pace

I was afraid of the Ethiopians and Moroccans because, traditionally, they have a strong finishing kick and my kick is weak. The only way out for me was to start fast and stay ahead of the pack.

So I started off on a fast pace in the first five and 10 kilometres because I knew that if I started slowly, it would be difficult to make a good finish.

Also, a slow pace would have been suicidal because it could have been impossible for us to catch up with the leading pack due to the heat and humidity. Our Kenyan bodies are, after all, not used to a slow pace.

The coach had set split times for me throughout the race, but I did not look at the time…I just ran fast.

I knew I would take the gold medal from about the 20-kilometre mark. I went with Martin until that point when he had some problems, probably due to the heat, and by then had Luke dropped out. I didn’t see him drop out and I don’t know what happened.

I kept looking back and I could not believe that I was in the lead and that I had dropped off the Moroccans and Ethiopians.

Slow pace

All along, I was not thinking about time. I just wanted Kenya to get the marathon gold and that’s what mattered most. At 36 kilometres, I felt strong and I saw the Moroccan (Jaouad Gharib) could not catch up.

When I turned to get into the stadium, my heart was pounding quite heavily. I knew I had won and so I started waving to the crowd and I was even more happy to see Kenyans in the crowd cheering me.

Crossing the finish line, I prayed to thank God who had answered my prayers. I couldn’t believe I was the Olympic champion!

Getting an Olympic record (Wanjiru improved on Spain’s Carlos Lopez’s previous Olympic marathon best time of two hours, nine minutes and 21 seconds, set at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, by running 2:03.62) was way beyond my wildest expectations.

It’s a big achievement and I’m happy I will be in the Guiness Book of World Records.

I will now run a few half marathons and next year target the London Marathon. I will not run at the World Championships in Berlin.

I’m also thinking of breaking the world record perhaps in the Berlin Marathon next year. My feet are now used to the tarmac and I’m still young.

I believe I can do well. It is not impossible to run under two hours and four minutes. But what matters is that right now I’m so happy.

People back home are celebrating but I don’t know what plans they have for me. I will know when I get home.

I thank my coaches and my colleagues who helped me train at Ngong. Some of them will be running in the New York Marathon and I wish them well.

I dedicate this gold medal to the people of Kenya!”