With a name Ghebreslassie, not much can go wrong if you are a long distance runner. Eritrean teenager Ghirmay Ghebreslassie showed it on Saturday, becoming the youngest marathon champion in World Championship history with a stunning performance.
In a field featuring world record holder David Kimetto, former record holder Wilson Kipsang and Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich, no one had given Ghebreslassie a chance. Just 19, he showed tremendous strength to withstand the soaring temperatures to claim the first gold of these World Championships, also Eritrea's first-ever.
Ghebreslassie timed two hours 12 minutes and 27 seconds -- a slow time but justifiable given the conditions that accounted for the Kenyan hopes, with both Kimetto and Kipsang failing to finish. Ugandan Kiprotich, chasing his third straight global gold following his wins at the London Olympics and Moscow World Championships, ended sixth.
Ethiopian Yemane Tsegay finished second in 2:13:08 while Solomon Mutai of Uganda won the bronze in 2:13:30.
“I am so proud of this win, it is a special one for our country,” said Ghebreslassie, whose surname is similar to that of the Ethiopian distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie.
“My parents wanted me to study well but I wanted to be a great athlete. When they saw I had the talent, they started supporting me. The win today will be a great surprise for them,” added the champion.
Eritrea’s previous best performance was a silver in the 10000M by Zersenay Tadesse in 2009.
Ghebreslassie ran a calculated race, stepping up the pace only after the 30km mark. Lesotho's Tsepo Mathibelle had surged ahead with Mutai and Tsegay in close proximity but past the 35km mark, Ghebreslassie overtook Mathibelle and began to make his intentions clear as the new leader.
Tsegay briefly hit the front at 38km but Ghebreslassie soon regained the lead and this time, there was no relinquishing it. Running into the Bird's Nest, he grabbed a flag from the stands and sprinted to the straight for a truly historic triumph.
Result: Men’s marathon: Ghirmay Gebreslassie (Eritrea) 2:12:27, 1; Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) 2:13:07, 2; Solomon Mutai (Uganda) 2:13:29.