Antonio Pinto, who is more than partial to the products of his own vineyard, demonstrated at yesterday's London Marathon that as an athlete he is maturing like a fine wine. The 34-year-old Portuguese secured his third London title in 2hr 06min 36sec, lifting himself to fifth on the all-time list and removing well over a minute from his own course record of 2:07.55.
Pinto, who has never finished outside the top three at London in six attempts, took advantage of ideal running conditions to produce a surge over the last seven miles which proved too much for a field that included Khalid Khannouchi, the world's fastest man over the distance.
Khannouchi's counterpart in the women's event, Tegla Loroupe, showed she could be as effective in women-only races as the mixed competition which saw her set the current mark of 2:20.43, winning on her London debut in 2:24.33.
Pinto's continuing effectiveness, eight years after taking his first London title, is phenomenal. Only last year he set a European 10,000m record, ran 13min 02sec for 5,000m and 3min 39sec for 1500m.
He ascribes his success to "maturity and experience". Certainly he drew on that yesterday as he timed his efforts to perfection.
Five years ago he set off at such a pace that he established a minute's lead by the 30km mark, but finished third after being caught by the eventual winner, Dionicio Ceron of Mexico. Last year he failed to respond swiftly enough to a break by the eventual winner, Abdelkader El Mouaziz of Morocco, and had to settle for second place.
Yesterday he put all his pace and experience together with a decisive break that jolted a relatively sedate race into life.
El Mouaziz was the only runner to make a serious response, finishing inside the old course record himself to take second place in 2:07.33, with Khannouchi, who had dropped back to eighth at one point, recovering to third in 2.08.36.
A relatively cautious first half - the leading runners went through in 1:04.52, almost two minutes slower than the original pacemaking target - played into Pinto's hands. "I felt very strong before the race, and the early pace was good because it left me enough energy to finish faster," he said, after recording a final sequence of seven miles which read 4min 32sec, 4.50, 4.44, 4.50, 4.45, 4.39, 4.45.
Pinto likes to drink a bottle of his home-produced wine every day when not in full training, although he cut back on his consumption this year after putting on 10 kilos between the World Championships in August and Christmas.
It looks as if he will have to continue going easy at least until after the Sydney Olympics, where he hopes to succeed for the first time in a major championship marathon.
Yesterday, however, he was more than happy with a performance which trimmed more than half a minute from the European record of 2.07.12 set by his compatriot Carlos Lopes in 1985. "I am proud that the record has stayed in Portugal," he said, after collecting prize money of $130,000 (£84,100).
Khannouchi, who spoke of setting a world record when he visited the course last November, denied that the controversy over whether he could switch nationality from Morocco to the United States in time for Sydney had affected him.
"I am a little disappointed because I came here to win," he said. "I had a few problems on the course. I felt cold after the 15th mile, and I had to work hard to come back from eighth place. But I'm going to try and win this marathon - if not this year, then next year."
Loroupe had a happier time on her London debut, although she exhibited some relief afterwards when revealing that she had gone into the race with a hip problem the extent of which even her close friend and training partner Joyce Chepchumba was unaware of.
Loroupe's cause was helped by the cautious early pace of what she described as a tactical race. But the way she applied the pressure with just over three miles remaining, breaking Chepchumba and Romania's Lidia Simon, who finished second in 2:24.46, betrayed no weakness. What might she do fully fit? Sydney may discover.
LEADING LONDON MARATHON RESULTS
1 A Pinto (Por) 2hr 6mins 36sec (European and course record); 2 A El Mouaziz (Mor) 2:07:33; 3 K Khannouchi (Mor) 2:08:36; 4 W Kiplagat (Ken) 2:09:06; 5 H Ramaala (SA) 2:09:43; 6 S Baldini (It) 2:09:45; 7 M Ntawulikura (Burundi) 2:09:55; 8 J Thugwane (SA) 2:10:29; 9 M Nazipov (Rus) 2:10:35; 10 D Goffi (It) 2:10:54; 11 M Steinle (GB) 2:11:18; 12 G Thys (SA) 2:11:32; 13 S Kororia (Ken) 2:12:28; 14 P Ndayisenga (Burundi) 2:13:28; 15 K Cullen (GB) 2:13:37; 16 J Mutai (Ken) 2:14:55; 17 J Lewis (Irl) 2:15:07; 18 M Hudspith (GB) 2:15:16; 19 S Jiminez (Mex) 2:15:37; 20 B Burns (GB) 2:15:42; 21 A Gomez (Sp) 2:15:48; 22 M Croasdale (GB) 2:16:02; 23 J Magala (SA) 2:17:00; 24 R Jones (GB) 2:18:34; 25 I Hudspith (GB) 2:18:40.
Wheelchair: 1 K Papworth (GB) 1:41:50; 2 E Van Dyk (SA) 1:41:53; 3 D Holding (GB) 1:47:11; 4 D Weir (GB) 1:47:11; 5 T Patel (GB) 1:47:15.
1 T Loroupe (Ken) 2:24:33; 2 L Simon (Rom) 2:24:46; 3 J Chepchumba (Ken) 2:24:57; 4 A Fernandez (Mex) 2:25:42; 5 K McCann (Aus) 2:25:59; 6 D Tulu (Eth) 2:26:09; 7 M Guida (It) 2:26:12; 8 L Morgunova (Rus) 2:26:33; 9 M Machado (Por) 2:26:41; 10 S Zakharova (Rus) 2:28:11; 11 Z Semenova (Rus) 2:28:46; 12 H Pong Sil (S Kor) 2:29:08; 13 E Kiplagat (Ken) 2:30:30; 14 R Burangulova (Rus) 2:31:14; 15 C Irineu (Bra) 2:35:11; 16 S Trampuz (Aus) 2:36:32; 17 K Chang Ok (S Kor) 2:36:39; 18 P Jardon (Mex) 2:37:05; 19 T Duffy (Irl) 2:38:30; 20 L McDougal (GB) 2:38:32; 21 A Wyeth (GB) 2:39:01; 22 T Thomson (GB) 2:40:39; 23 J Lodge (GB) 2:40:51; 24 A Joiner (GB) 2:44:07; 25 J Newcombe (GB) 2:46:16.
Wheelchair: 1 S Piecy (GB) 2:23:30; 2 T Grey-Thompson (GB) 2:34:53 (only two competitors).