A confused Paul Tergat shuffled his feet, wondering where to go, and then ran between the wrong pillars at the towering Brandenburg gate.
That cost the Kenyan several seconds, but it didn't stop him from shattering the world record by 43 seconds yesterday with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 55 seconds at the Berlin Marathon.
He eclipsed the 2:05.38 set by Khalid Khannouchi on April 14, 2002 in London. In that race, Tergat finished 10 seconds behind the Moroccan–born American, then the second–fastest time in history.
"That upset me a little at the time. I feel lucky that I could take away the record today – I focused my whole preparation on that," Tergat said.
Tergat finished just one second ahead of pacemaker Sammy Korir, who made a late spurt as his countryman lost time in front of the gate. Titus Munji, Tergat's second pacemaker, finished third in 2:06.15.
Tergat, often second in big races, kept Korir on his shoulder and threw up his arms in triumph as he broke the tape. Afterward, he hugged his wife Monica in joy. "This time I wanted to try for the record. I'm very happy," Tergat said.
Tergat was confused when the lead cars melted away, leaving him standing in front of the 65–foot high gate with space between the pillars big enough to drive a truck through. In the end, he darted through the central columns instead of the right ones where the finish line was located. "There was nobody there to show me," Tergat said.
Fortunately for him, Korir followed him the wrong way through the gate or the Kenyan may have been stuck with another famous second that had overshadowed his achievements.
In addition to the London loss to Khannouchi, he was twice beaten by Haile Gebrselassie at the Olympics – in the second one the Ethiopian star broke Tergat's world record.
Tergat's record wasn't unexpected, with many predicting the two–time Olympic silver medalist and five time cross country world champion was likely to lower the mark on the flat fast course where three world bests had been set in recent years.
On the women's side, no one was expected to challenge Paula Radcliffe's 2:15:25 set in London.
Yasuko Hashimoto won in 2:26:32, the fourth straight for a Japanese woman. Kenya's Emily Kimuria was second in 2:28:18, 10 seconds ahead of Italy's Ornella Ferrara.
Hashimoto, running just her third marathon, took the lead for good over the final third of the race when Prague winner Russian Alina Ivanova faded in the 26.2–mile race.
On a cool, cloudy morning with hardly a breeze, Tergat and his two pacemakers ran the first half in a fast 1:03:01 through the streets of Berlin. Then they began to pick up the pace.
With a third of the race left, the threesome were running at a 2:04 pace. Munji fell back, but over the final few miles, it was clear the record would be snapped by Tergat or Korir, barring a collapse by both Kenyans. "I knew that we were headed toward a great time, and made sure the pace didn't get too fast. That paid off at the finish," Tergat said.
Tergat and Korir matched strides over the final miles, side–by–side, their arms and legs swinging together in rhythm. In the stretch run, the pacemaker fell 20 yards back.
As Korir closed in again, Tergat kept swinging his head sideways to look at his countryman – with good reason.
Tergat, despite owning two of the 10 fastest marathon times, hadn't won any of the five he entered. The worst loss was when compatriot Ben Kimondiu, his pacemaker, beat him in Chicago in 2001. "I wasn't paying attention, I try never to let anyone get away now in the second half," he said.
Tergat earned appearance money, plus US$36,000 for winning and US$56,000 for the record.
EVOLUTION OF THE MARATHON WORLD BEST
2:25:39 Suh Yun-bok (S Kor) Boston 19.4.1947
2:20:43 Jim Peters (GB) London 14.6.52
2:18:41 Peters London 13.6.53
2:18:35 Peters Turku (Fin) 4.10.53
2:17:40 Peters London 26.6.54
2:15:17 S Popov (Soviet Union) Stockholm 24.8.58
2:15:17 A Bikila (Eth) Rome 10.9.60
2:15:16 T Terasawa (Japan) Beppu, Japan 17.2.63
2:14:28 B Edelen (US) London 15.6.63
2:13:55 B Heatley (GB) London 13.6.64
2:12:12 Bikila Tokyo 21.10.64
2:12:00 M Shigematsu (Japan) London 12.6.65
2:09:37 D Clayton (Aus) Fukuoka, Japan 3.12.67
2:08:34 Clayton Antwerp 30.5.69
2:08:18 R de Castella (Aus) Fukuoka, Japan 6.12.81
2:08:05 S Jones (GB) Chicago 21.10.84
2:07:12 C Lopes (Portugal) Rotterdam 20.4.85
2:06:50 B Dinsamo (Eth) Rotterdam 17.4.88
2:06:05 R da Costa (Br) Berlin 20.9.98
2:05:42 K Khannouchi (US) Chicago 24.10.99
2:05:38 K Khannouchi London 14.4.02
2:04:55 P Tergat (Ken) Berlin 28.9.03