Olympic Marathon Course Goes Round & Round

The four loop layout features 90 turns and no straightaway longer than 800 meters.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

LONDON — When the late Sammy Wanjiru won the 2008 Olympic Marathon in an event record time of 2:06:32, his primary tactic was to put in long surges on the wide open straightaways of the flat and smooth Beijing course.  His rivals never lost visual contact with Kenya’s first Olympic Marathon gold medalist; Wanjiru simply overwhelmed them with his speed, power and endurance.

But athletes hoping to win marathon gold at this summer’s Games here will have to employ a different approach because the four-loop course has over 90 turns and the longest straightaway is shorter than 800 meters. Moreover, because some of the roadways are narrow, maintaining visual contact with a rival who has spurted away will be impossible in some sections.  One brief, but well-timed move could put the race away.

“I agree with everyone that it’s not going to be an easy course,” said coach Kevin Hanson of the Brooks-Hansons Original Development Project who came here to preview the course with USA Olympic Marathon Trials runner-up Desiree Davila.  ”I like it when there’s anything different with a course that creates a tactic, besides the distance itself.”

The race begins and ends on The Mall adjacent to St. James’s Park, opening with a 3.571-kilometer loop which has seven turns or bends, including one U-turn.  From there, the athletes will run the primary 12.975-kilometer loop three times which –depending on how you count them– has 29 turns and bends, including one U-turn at Tower Hill.  The course not only utilizes paved surface streets, but also incorporates plazas and narrow passages (the athletes will even run through the covered, outdoor Leadenhall Market three times).  While most of the course is pavement, there are some cobblestone sections, including Leadenhall Market.

Davila, who has already put in over 100 miles of training on the course, said that rehearsing her race here would provide an advantage.

“It’s good to know ahead of time (of the difficult sections),” Davila told Race Results Weekly.  ”There’s a couple of spots like that.  I think that the Houston course (which also had a lot of turns) turned out to be a good Trials course.”

This reporter ran sections of the course last Saturday with Brendan Reilly, an IAAF-registered athletes representative; Gilbert Koech, the coach and husband of world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat; and Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of the New York Road Runners and race director of the ING New York City Marathon.  Everyone in the group thought that the course was challenging, visually beautiful, and would provide an exciting experience for the fans because of how tight some sections were.

The group was particularly struck by the short, but steep, hill from Lower Thames Street to Gracechurch Street on the main loop which is paved with cobblestones.  Athletes will climb it at 11, 24 and 37 kilometers.

“You get to do it three times,” Reilly deadpanned.

Hanson, however, made the point that some comments about the difficulty of the course –which is mostly flat– had been overblown.

“I don’t think all of the turns are quite as severe as people say,” Hanson said.

The women’s Olympic Marathon will take place on Sunday, August 5, at 11:00 a.m., on the third day of the athletics competition, and the men’s Olympic Marathon will be one week later on Sunday, August 12, at 11:00 a.m.  The men’s race is the final event on the Games’ athletics program, which stretches ten days.

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