Ramaala carries SA’s last medal hopes into the men’s marathon

2008-08-22 00:00

Tomorrow’s marathon is SA’s last chance saloon for a medal at the Beijing Olympics, and the chief gunfighter is Hendrik Ramaala, who is armed with a 2:06,55 personal best (PB) set in London in 2007.

However, subsequent performances suggest he may be entering the fray a few bullets short of a six-shooter. On paper, Ramaala has the eighth best time of the 101 listed entrants, but only 12th best qualifying time and a lowly 28th in terms of season’s bests as a result of his 2:11,44 set in London in April.

The greatest individual challenge can be expected to come from a quartet of talented and determined athletes.

Moroccan Jaouad Gharib not only has a faster PB and qualifying best, but also the 2003 and 2005 World Championship titles. He has not raced this year and is acknowledged as a runner who focuses on the big one. Countryman Abderrahim Goumri comes from a solid 5 000 m and 10 000 m track background and has moved up to the marathon, where this year he impressed with a 2:05,30 for third in London.

Kenyan Martin Lel, a multiple London, New York and big city marathon winner, has a PB of 2:05,15. His 21-year-old compatriot, Samuel Wanjiru, came second in London and broke the world half-marathon record.

The past three Olympic courses have required a certain degree of strategic planning due to the hill and weather combination, but Beijing is as close to a time trial as you can get.

There is nothing to challenge the runners along the way. The course is flat and straight on wide boulevards with little if any protection from the weather, and no relief from constant effort.

Making an early break will leave the runner on his own with only his thoughts, the pressure of worrying about the chasing pack and a view to eternity. It’s one of those courses that the faster the pace the later the break — but the faster the time, the greater the risk of over-cooking, and runners won’t recover from that.

A slower race could work in Ramaala’s favour as it will keep within his normal operating scope and allow him to adopt his tactic of sticking towards the back of the group. He arrived in Beijing from his Albuquerque training camp on Wednesday and was surprised by the cool post-rain weather conditions.

“If we have the weather we had on Thursday, it could be a world record time. It all depends on the weather. You’ll need to work out the tactics on the day: if it’s hot, then it will be slow with runners testing each other.”

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