Wanjiru, who like Tadese was running this 11.3K road race over a snaking and hilly 1,130-meter cobblestone circuit for the first time, felt some tightness in his chest. After the first lap, in which Tadese had already established a lead over primary chasers Vincent Kipruto and Abreham Cherkos, Wanjiru had already fallen well behind. He did not appear amongst the leaders in the Piazza Margherita (where the race starts and finishes) on the third lap, but later jogged slowly into the piazza before being helped to the sidelines by race officials.
“I feel (something) in my breathing,” Wanjiru said coughing and pointing to his chest. “Yesterday, I noticed a problem.”
But there were no problems for Tadese. The half marathon world-record holder was leading by 19 seconds after the fifth of ten laps. Race announcer Paolo Mutton rallied the crowd every time Tadese rounded the fountain in the piazza to head out on another lap. Tadese did his best to put on a good show.
“The course is very hard,” Tadese said after being mobbed by a small but boisterous group of Eritrean fans who had come here to cheer. He added: “It’s good. It’s the first time I run here. I win, and I’m very happy.”
Behind Tadese, Kipruto of Kenya and Cherkos of Ethiopia were working together to catch Tadese. But the pair were unable to gain any ground. Tadese was able to slow down on the final lap, enjoy the cheers of the crowd, and even high-five several fans before breaking the long blue finish tape in 34:20. Cherkos was able to pull away from Kipruto, the defending champion, in the final meters to finish second in 34:31. Kipruto got third, another three seconds behind.
Kenyan marathoners James Kwambai and Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot struggled here today. Kwambai, who has a marathon personal best of 2:04:27, ran most of the race alone in fourth place, which is where he would finish in 35:17, nearly a minute behind Tadese. Cheruiyot, the reigning Boston Marathon champion and course record holder (2:05:52), was visibly laboring throughout the race, and finished seventh in 35:54. The top Italian finisher was former European cross country champion, Gabriele De Nard, who finished fifth in 35:35.
For Tadese, his next challenge is the Bogotá International Half Marathon next month in Colombia, then he’ll train to defend his IAAF World Half Marathon title in Nanying, China, in October. He said he had no plans to run a marathon in the fall.
Watching today’s race was double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, who trains in Grosseto in Northern Italy and was a special guest of the race. Watching Tadese push his way through the crowd to get to the awards stage where he would receive three enormous trophies, Pistorius marveled at his endurance.
“He’s got to be shattered,” said Pistorius.