Röthlin Dominates In Barcelona

Swiss man becomes first from his country to win European Marathon title.

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

In 1993 the people of Switzerland voted to make August 1st Swiss National Day, a national holiday to celebrate the founding of the Swiss confederacy in the 19th century.  But this year they have something extra to celebrate: the first Swiss athlete ever to win a European Marathon title.

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Viktor Röthlin, 35, whose career seemed finished after a series of health problems, rallied on a hot and humid day in Barcelona and completely dominated the field of 65 men who competed in the 20th European Championships Marathon.  Taking a patient approach and only paying attention to moves made by his top rivals, Röthlin made a strong move past the 25K mark on the four-loop course to break free of Spain’s José Manuel “Chema” Martínez, France’s James Kibocha Theuri, and Italy’s Ruggero Pertile.  His lead built with every kilometer, and by the time he passed the grandstand on the Passeig de Picasso for the final time before the finish, he was more than two minutes ahead of the field.  He grabbed a Swiss flag from a fan and waved it triumphantly as he crossed the finish line.

“My career might as well have been over after today, but the only thing I can say now is that I’m back!!” Röthlin exclaimed. “It feels great.”

Röthlin’s time was modest, even for hot conditions: 2:15:31.  Nonetheless, the victory was very important for a man whose career had been in grave doubt for the last year.  After he won the marathon silver medal at these championships in 2006 and the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships in 2007, Röthlin’s career was on the rise.  He won the 2008 Tokyo Marathon in a course and Swiss record 2:07:23, and placed sixth at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon, just 11 seconds behind two-time London Marathon champion, Martin Lel of Kenya.  Those performances were good enough to finally earn him an invitation to the London Marathon in April of 2009.

But in March of 2009 after training at altitude in Kenya for London, Röthlin suffered a pulmonary embolism that landed him in an intensive care unit of a Swiss hospital.  

“I made in Kenya a pulmonal embolia and thank God nothing happened on the public plane back home from Nairobi,” Röthlin wrote in an e-mail at the time.  “Back home they found the thrombosis in the deep pelvis vein. Six centimeters of the thrombus have been already up in my right lung.  Two centimeters stayed down there in my vein.  In the night from Wednesday to Thursday this week, this last piece went also up in my left lung and I was really in troubles!  No breath at all and a lot of pain.”

Röthlin, who said that he got the embolism from sitting in a cramped plane seat on a long flight, also had to have a foot surgery last year in which, according to his massage therapist Daniel Troxler, a piece of bone was removed from his right heel.  Today’s marathon was only his first in nearly two years.  Röthlin, who is known for his meticulous race preparations, wasn’t sure what would happen today.

“During the race I was not sure if I can make it,” said Röthlin, who earned Switzerland’s only medal at these championships.  “I just kept going.  I like to run in the heat.  Compared to Osaka 2007 this was cold.”

Behind Röthlin, Martínez was lifted by the partisan cheers of the crowd.  Although the 38 year-old Spaniard, who won the 10,000-meter gold medal at these championships in 2002, could not catch Röthlin, he was well ahead of Theuri and Pertile.  Martínez finished alone in second position in 2:17:50 to explosive cheers from the crowd.

“For me, today is very important because this is my country,” Martínez told Race Results Weekly in English.  “I think, for me, the last marathon for the medal.  Today, I enjoy the race, enjoy with the people.  Everybody telling me, ‘come on Chema, come on Chema, go, go, go!’  I think today the medal is for the people, for the people and for me.  I am very, very happy.  I remember this day for always.  Always it will be in my mind.”

Pertile seemed to be in control of third place after Theuri faded (and dropped out), and was hoping to produce another marathon bronze medal for Italy after Anna Incerti’s third-place finish in the women’s marathon on Saturday.  But a little more than two hours into the race, Pertile stopped, grabbing the back of his legs and began shaking them.  He was able to restart, but was running visibly slower.  Two minutes later, Russia’s Dmitriy Safronov, who was back in sixth position at 30K, crept past Pertile in the 37th kilometer to take over third position, a place he would hold to the finish in 2:18:16.  Pertile ended up a distant fourth.  Overwhelmed with emotion, he wept as his wife consoled him.

The hot sun –the temperature at the start was 26.2°C/79°F with 75% humidity– took its toll on the field.  Nineteen men dropped out, including sentimental favorite and defending champion Stefano Baldini of Italy.  The 2004 Olympic gold medallist, running in his last competitive marathon, was just behind the leaders at halfway, but he did not make it to the 25K mark.  Austria’s Günther Weidlinger, who was expected to contend for a medal, was never a factor in the race and finished 18th in 2:23:37.

At the next edition of the European Championships, which will be held in Helsinki in 2012, the marathon will not be contested because the event is too close in the calendar to the Olympic Games.

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