News10 Sep 2000

Surprise win by pacemaker Simon Biwott


Jörg Wenig for IAAF

10 September 2000 - Simon Biwott achieved a novelty in the history of the Berlin Marathon and continued the tradition of world-class performances in the event.

The 30-year-old Kenyan from Eldoret was the pacemaker in what is still by far Germany's biggest and most prestigious road race. But instead of dropping out at 28k Simon Biwott continued setting the pace. In the end he ran away with the prize-money for the winner: 50,000 DM (about 25,000 US-Dollars). Running a world-class time of 2:07:42, the fifth fastest in the world this year, Biwott earned another 30,000 DM of time bonuses plus probably some more thousands for his work as a pacemaker.

Another surprise came nearly 20 minutes later as Kazumi Matsuo won the women's race in 2:26:15. She becomes the first Japanese win the Berlin Marathon. The winners were followed in by Spain's Antonio Pena (2:07:47), who challenged Simon Biwott on the long home straight on Kurfurstendamm in a thrilling finish, and Franca Fiacconi (Italy/2:26:42).

A record field of 27,017 runners entered the race. Adding inline-skaters (6,741), walkers (219), and wheelchairs (113) a total number of 34,090 athletes from 85 countries were registered for the race. Also 5,442 children took part in the Mini Marathon (4,2 k). Once again it seemed that the Berlin Marathon had struck a deal with Mother Nature. The conditions were nearly perfect: dry, no wind, cloudy at the start and brightening up later.

Some runners felt it a bit humid as temperatures rose from about 15 to more than 20 degrees during the race. Sadly the event was overshadowed by the death of two runners. One collapsed during his run, the other just after crossing the finish-line.

In front of about a million spectators the pacemakers set a more even pace than in former years in Berlin. After 14:55 for 5 k the Palermo-based Kenyan James Tanui led the first group when 10 k was reached in 30:08 minutes. The pack of 16 was reduced to five during the next 10 k. Eric Kimaiyo (Kenya), second in Berlin in 1997, was among those who could not stand the pace.

Tanui had stopped his work at 15 k (45:10), while another pacemaker, Wilson Pkanaka (Kenya), dropped out at 20 k (1:00:09). There were just four runners left then: "Pacemaker" Biwott, the favorite Fabián Roncero (Spain), Jackson Kabiga (Kenya) and Japan's Hirohi Miki. Kabiga then made a move and was about 20 metres clear at 25 k (1:15:04), but Biwott and the Roncero caught him up soon after that. It was only Miki who had lost contact, but therefore Spain's Antonio Pena came strong from far behind, running alone for almost the whole race.

"The first group was too fast, the second one too slow for me - so I preferred to run my own pace", Pena explained later on.

At 30 k (1:30:21) he was half a minute behind the leaders. But surprisingly Roncero was no longer among them. Looking very good for at least 25 k the Spanish record holder (2:07:23) suddenly lost contact at 29 k, and dropped out at 31 k.

"First I did my job and ran 28 k. This race was a test for me as I had problems with my leg in the Spring earlier this year. I felt fine and carried on", Biwott explained. Once he saw that Roncero was no longer in contention he made a move at 32 k and built up a lead of about 50 metres. Meanwhile Pena had caught Kabiga, who finished third in 2.09:52, at 33 k and passed him soon afterwards. "At 35 k I knew I had a good chance to win the race", Simon Biwott explained. But it was getting very close for the runner from Eldoret.

Pena closed the gap on the Kurfürstendamm with just about a mile to go. "But in the end I had no strength left to win the race. Still I am very happy with what I achieved here. My aim was to break my personal record of 2:08:59. But I was thinking of about 2:08:20", Pena explained.

The women's race was not as exciting as the men's, but there was still several tense moments. After passing 10 k in 34:06 and 15 k in 51:15 there was a good leading-group at half-way. The split reads 1:12:12, but it is said to be taken a bit too early (probably at 21 k). Among the leading women were Kazumi Matsuo, Franca Fiacconi, and Shujing Zhang (China), who later finished third (2:27:14). The Japanese got a strong team result taking first, fourth (Noriko Geji/2:27:41) and seventh place (Hiromi Igarashi/2:29:39). When Franca Fiacconi moved in front she looked like the winner. But 26-year-old Matsuo managed to come back and overtake her just four kilometres from the finish. "This is just my second marathon. My first one was in 1999. I ran 2:32:14 in Hokkaido but it was very hard, because there were 30 degrees. So I felt no pressure in Berlin", Matsuo, who is still working part-time as an administrator in a store, said.

Franca Fiacconi, New York champion in 1998, commented: "I was well prepared, and I am happy with my time. Of course I would have liked to win. The atmosphere in Berlin is like in New York." German runner Melanie Kraus achieved a good debut, taking fifth place in 2:27:58.


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