Baldini joins legends of Marathon

They followed in the footsteps of Pheidippides and Spiridon Louis on the road from Marathon to Athens last night and by the time they reached the magnificent marble-stepped Panathinaiko Stadium the runners in the 2004 Olympic men's marathon had written another classic chapter in the history of their event.

They followed in the footsteps of Pheidippides and Spiridon Louis on the road from Marathon to Athens last night and by the time they reached the magnificent marble-stepped Panathinaiko Stadium the runners in the 2004 Olympic men's marathon had written another classic chapter in the history of their event.

On the route, so legend has it, that Pheidippides ran with news of a Greek victory at Marathon in 490BC, and on which Louis, a local water carrier, won the original Olympic marathon race in 1896, Stefano Baldini, a 33-year-old Italian, claimed the gold medal.

He did so in 2hr 10min 55sec, breaking the course record held since 1969 by Coventry's Bill Adcocks by a margin of 12 seconds. Meb Keflezighi, an Eritrean immigrant running for the United States, took silver in 2:11:29 and Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil the bronze in 2:12:21.

De Lima dropped to his knees as he crossed the line and kissed the track. His demeanour could not have cut a starker contrast to the runner approaching the line in fourth. Jon Brown had finished fourth in Sydney. The pride of Sheffield Athletics Club had missed out on a medal again, this time by 15 seconds. He was too distraught to speak as he made a hasty exit.

De Lima, 35, was still milking the applause. He deserved every drop of it. Having led the race from the 10th mile to the 22nd, hewas pushed into the crowd by a spectator who ran into the road dressed in a kilt. The assailant was later identified as Cornelius Horan, an Irish priest who ran on to the track at Silverstone during the British Grand Prix last year. De Lima will be presented with the Pierre de Coubertin Medal, awarded in recognition of acts of sportsmanship at the Games.

De Lima's lead had already been whittled down from 44 seconds to 28 and, while he lost a further ten in extricating himself from the crowd, he probably would have still been caught by Baldini and Keflezighi before the finish. Not that De Lima saw it that way. "It cost me the race," he said. "I would have won it. I couldn't believe what happened."

Hendrick Ramaala, the South African, had already made one vain attempt to get away from the pack on the flat early stages before De Lima threw down the gauntlet after 10 miles. Reaching the halfway mark in 1:07.22, the Brazilian held a 14-second lead. In his wake, the Moroccan Jaouad Gharib led the chase. Paul Tergat, the world record holder, and Baldini quickly joined him and were followed by Brown.

By the start of the descent into Athens, the Briton had dropped out of contention. A second fourth place in successive Olympic marathons was an outstanding performance by the 33-year-old. Not that the medal-less Brown took any consolation from that.

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