When Patrick Makau broke the world record in the men's marathon in September 2011, what grabbed attention was not just that he had set a new mark, but whom he had vanquished in that effort. Some 17 miles into the Berlin Marathon, Makau accelerated away from Haile Gebrselassie, who had hitherto been shadowing him.
The Kenyan ran zigzag to shake off his pursuer — one of the greatest distance runners of all time and then the world-record holder — and surged to the finish in a time of 2:03:38. Gebrselassie did not complete the race, later pulling out with breathing difficulties.
“I was young and aggressive. I had a lot of courage,” says Makau, who is in town for Sunday's TCS World 10K. “You obviously know [what his stature is] when you are running with a legend like Gebrselassie. Against runners like that, at some point you have to launch an attack and see if they resist. His tactic was to follow me and I realised that. So I tried my own tactic.”
The son of cashew labourers from Kenya's Eastern Province, Makau shot to stardom in his native land with that performance. The 31-year-old has since fallen from those heights, clocking 2:08:18 in Fukuoka in December, but believes he is on his way back. “I've had injuries,” he says. “I'm aiming for a 2:05 finish in Berlin this year. It's possible.”
The world record has been broken twice since 2011, and now stands at 2:02:57, in Dennis Kimetto's name. But can a marathon ever be run in under two hours? “It is impossible,” Makau feels. “I do not see any such athletes in this generation. In our days, the number we were chasing was 2:03. But in this generation, they are surrendering after 2:03. It's like they've reached a climax. And they're coming down.”
On Thursday, in another chapter in a long-running story, the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended that Kenya be declared 'non-compliant', putting the country's participation in the Rio Olympics in doubt.
Makau believes, however, that a ban is out of the question. “They (WADA) say that but it is impossible for them to do so,” he says. “My government has done a lot. I don't know why they (WADA) are following up so much. At the end of the day they will allow us to run because Kenya is a country with great athletes. If they don't run in the Olympics, the fans will not be happy.”
Kenyan athletics, which supplied all of the country's 11 medals at the 2012 Games, does not have a major doping problem, Makau insists. “It is an issue but not a severe one. Most of the big athletes from Kenya are clean. It's just a few who have maybe been cheated by their coaches or whoever.”
Makau's time is still the sixth fastest in history. Whatever his fortunes now, the Kenyan will always have that day in Berlin to look back on.
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