Monday, October 23, 2006

What an exciting, bizarre and unforgiving pair of races at the Chicago Marathon. I can honestly say that in all the races I have ever seen, I have never seen anyone slip at the finish line and hurt themselves, but that's what happened to men's winner Robert Cheruiyot (of fire). I was right about one thing at least: Daniel Njenga was second, but I was wrong about how valiantly he battled back, over and over and over as Cheruiyot tried over and over and over to drop him over the last 5 km. In the final straightaway, looking as though he had clearly lost, Njenga kicked hard to close the gap, but he just could not hang on over the last few hundred metres and Cheruiyot strode away to win. As Cheruiyot approached the finish line, he slowed to a jog for the last few steps and raised his hands in celebration and then strangely collapsed. It looked as though he had exhausted himself getting away from Njenga, but the commentators and others seem to think that he slipped on the mat or painted logo. If you watch the fall, it is very painful to see. I hope it doesn't get played around the world, but the last mile or so was a rare moment when it is plain to anyone watching that something very special is happening.

The fall at the end obscures a very dramatic finish to the race, which came down in the last few kilometres to Cheruiyot and Njenga. Though Njenga never took the lead, he tried over and over to stay with Cheruiyot. The women's race was, for the first two hours, the real story: Romanian Constantina Tomescu-Dita went out at world record pace when she could not clearly not hold it. Still, her lead was two minutes at the 30-kilometre mark and it seemed as though all she had to do to win was avert a complete and utter collapse. In the event, she did collapse completely and in the blink of an eye, the story became the battle between Ethiopian Berhane Adere and Russian Galina Bogomolova. Adere would simply run away from Bogomolova in the end, who hopefully had as much fun running the race as we all do in saying her last name. Cheruiyot picks up $140,000 ($125,000 plus a $45,000 time bonus) for his two hours of work today and advances his case very strongly towards the $1 million prize for the World Marathon Majors. The 33-year old Adere wins $170,000. Bogomolova and Njenga both pocket $65,000 as well as time bonuses of $45,000 and $15,000 respectively.

Interestingly, I initially thought that Cheruiyot didn't win the race because he collapsed on the mat with the tape still intact. The commentators and other viewers were quick to declare him the winner and it came out that the timing chip had indeed crossed the finish line. However, given his backward fall, I doubt his body actually crossed the finish line, and some of that does turn up online. I also doubt that the Chicago Marathon wants such a bizarre, inhuman controversy on their hands, so this will likely be a non-issue.

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