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30 Sep 2000
Sydney 2000

Abera becomes youngest marathon champion since 1932

The marathon is often considered to be the most challenging of the running events. Not only is it physically exhausting, it is also mentally demanding, with the need to be disciplined, decisive and unrelentingly determined. For that reason, the marathon is regularly portrayed as being a race unlike any other, and also one that suits older, more experienced runners.

However, in Sydney there was a youngster competing right at the front of the field. Ethiopia's Gezaahgne Abera was just 22 and had only been competing at international level for a year, having made his debut in the Los Angeles Marathon in 1999. He finished fourth there, behind three Kenyan runners, and in doing so qualified for the Ethiopian team at that year’s world championships.

His name had registered in the minds of the national selectors at just the right time, and he made sure it stayed there. He won the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan and came second in the prestigious Boston event. Having won himself a place in the Ethiopian team – itself no mean feat – he was well prepared for Sydney.

In cool conditions, ideal for marathon racing, the contest developed into a three-way battle between Abera, his fellow Ethiopian Tesfaye Tola and the Kenyan Eric Wainaina, who had taken the bronze medal four years earlier.

After 37km, as the Ethiopians slowed to pick up wet sponges, Wainaina surged ahead. Tola, tired and told his team-mate to chase after the Kenyan, saying: “You go. You win”.
Abera followed the instruction to the letter. He caught Wainaina and then, with 2km left, powered ahead and opened a lead that he would retain until the very end.

He became the youngest marathon champion for 68 years, but it was to prove his only race at the Olympics. After adding the world title in 2001, he then found himself hampered by injuries and he retired from competition soon after.

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