Carl Lewis - MarathonMan

Carl Lewis – marathon man?
Thursday 20 April 2006
The organisers of the Belgrade Banca Intesa Marathon have never lacked ambition. Which is why they will have Carl Lewis on the start line of Saturday’s annual race (22), the 19th in the series.

But rest easy Haile Gebrselassie (who will be contesting the Flora London Marathon on Sunday)! Lewis, the most bemedalled sprinter/jumper in Olympic history – nine golds – will only be firing the starter’s pistol in Belgrade.

Unlike his erstwhile Olympic gold medal colleague, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Lewis has never been unwise enough to say that he might run a marathon one day. This is probably the closest he will ever get.

Lewis is the latest of a long line of stars who have come to Belgrade to publicise the marathon and run clinics for schoolchildren. Previous luminaries have included Bob Beamon, Sergey Bubka, Merlene Ottey, Steve Ovett, and even marathon and long distance runners, like Lasse Viren, Emil Zatopek, and Gelindo Bordin.

Floods will not stop the race

They have been some of the upside of a race history, which would have daunted lesser organisers. In the last two decades, the race has been hit by civil war in the Balkans, bombings of the city, and closure of the airport. Then an internal rift in the city administration resulted in the race being off the road for two years. They came back with a course record last year, 2:12:10 by Medeksa Derba of Ethiopia. Now a multi-year sponsorship deal with Italian bank, Banca Intesa should assure the future.

Given their history of overcoming adversity, this week’s flooding of the Danube and Sava rivers, which meet within 100 metres of the lowest part of the course is no more than a minor inconvenience. That said, if the other big Belgrade running event, the Race Through History were to be on this week, it would have to be a duathlon, since the lower park of the Kalemegdan fortress has been under water.

Kosgei and Karnatsevitch are the favourites

The leading contenders for victory on Saturday are among the best to have visited Belgrade. Japhet Kosgei of Kenya has run under 2:08 on three occasions, winning Rotterdam ’99 in 2:07:09, Tokyo ’00 in 2:07:39, and Lake Biwa ’03 in 2:07:39. He also had a close second in New York ’01, in 2:09:20.

The women’s favourite, Halina Karnatsevitch of Belarus has won seven of her 17 marathons, with her best time, 2:27:14 achieved in finishing 12th in last year’s IAAF World Championships in Helsinki.

But the best story could potentially come from Chemokil Chilapong. The Kenyan mother of four, now aged 29, had never raced until two years ago, when her husband sold one of the family goats to send her to the Nairobi Marathon ’04. She promptly repaid her husband’s investment by winning in 2:39:09, beating Olympic bronze medallist, Joyce Chepchumba in the process, and taking home a million Kenyan shillings ($15000).

Pat Butcher for the IAAF