SA athletes bail out

Athens - Hendrik Ramaala led a kamikaze pact among South Africa's marathon men in the Olympic marathon as the Athens Olympics drew to a dramatic close on Sunday over the route where the marathon was born.

National record holder Gert Thys, who ran in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and Sydney 2000, was the only South African home in 2:16:08 for 16th, with Ramaala and Ian Syster having bailed on the "sacred" route from Marathon to Athens.

At 37km, the Athens crowds were left stunned when an Irishman wearing a brightly coloured costume dashed across the road and crash-tackled race-leader Vanderlei de Lima into the crowd lining the road.

Two kilometres later Stefano Baldini of Italy overhauled the startled Brazilian followed by Mebrahtom Keflezighi, running for America, who pushed hard over the final two kilometres to pull the Italian in after he went through 40km in 2hrs 4min.

Baldini held his lead to finish to a roaring welcome from the crowd that packed the Ancient Olympic Stadium in the city, clocking 2:10:55.

Ramaala, who trained in France for the marathon, took flight from just after the start and spearheaded the field with Thys and Syster in among the large pack.

Ramaala started aggressively, pushing the pace up front, and surged through 10km in 31:55, then attacked on a hill just after 15km, opening up a 15 second gap on the chasing bunch that he held through 20km at 63:56.

His push pulled the large front group to shreds with Thys and Syster still packed in near the front.

Then Syster went to the front, perhaps to soften the chasers up, but they were right at his heels and the move seemed to spur them on to hunting Ramaala down.

De Lima of Brazil, wearing 1234 on his vest pushed hard on a rise and went past Ramaala who tried to tuck into the bunch.

But the South African's early suicidal racing took the sting out of his legs and he fell off the pace.

Syster also fell off and by 25km he was walking and out of the race with only the seasoned Thys hanging onto the back of the pack.

But by 30km he was also history and over a minute down as Lima held a narrow lead going through the 12km-to-go mark in 1:35:00.

Seven kilometres later the spectator crashed into the Brazilian and he was wrestled to the ground by spectators and a security policeman on a following mountain bike.

Mebrahtom chased hard in the final two kilometres, but to no avail as he claimed silver in 2:11:29 with bronze going to De Lima in 2:12:11.

Briton Jon Brown, who trains in Potchefstroom and who was shunned by the London marathon organisers when he tried to enter their race, got away from Kenya's world record holder Paul Tergat in the final two kilometres for fourth in 2:12:26.

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