Fri, September 20, 2013

Marathon a site to behold

By THANE BURNETT, QMI Agency


Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana crosses the finishing line as she wins the women's marathon final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at The Mall August 5, 2012. (REUTERS)

LONDON - They started in the shadow of Buckingham Palace and moved quickly along bricks stained with iron oxide pigment so that it might resemble a giant red carpet.

This is a playground of kings and queens and history.

But in important ways, Sunday's women's Olympic marathon here was the premier people's event of these Games.

There have been a few other competitions that have drawn Olympians out beyond gated venues that demand tickets.

But the marathon was unique in how accessible it was for average Londoners, across a vast brush-stroke of the city.

All of Britain seemed to go into mourning recently when world record holder and national treasure Paula Radcliffe announced she had to withdraw from Sunday's event because of a foot injury, but London still turned on to celebrate the marathon by filling the streets.

Even in pouring rain, locals and visitors lined the entire 42-kilometer route -- with views of the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral and Trafalgar Square rivalling any marathon ever run.

And when Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia took gold after 2:23.07 -- followed quickly by Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya and Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova of Russia -- her countrymen crowded in to celebrate.

There were no Canadians in the field.

That comes next Sunday when the men run the same course, which weaves and bends and snakes through ancient London.

And if the women's race was a cinematic experience to watch for Canadian viewers, next Sunday's marathon will be breathtaking.

Canadians Eric Gillis, originally of Antigonish, N.S., Dylan Wykes, of Kingston, Ont., and Hamilton, Ont., runner Reid Coolsaet, will fly our colours during the men's four-lap road race.

Canada's Olympic marathon record -- which has stood for 36 years at 2:10:08 -- is expected to be broken in London.

The event will be the premier showpiece, marking the last event of these Games.

In an email exchange with Coolsaet, he wrote he was carefully studying the women's race to get a better read of the path.

"I haven't been on the route yet but I'm planning on checking the trickier parts (next Friday)," said Coolsaet, who will be among the runners competing as Canada's first entrants in an Olympic marathon since 2000.

He'll have little time to admire the view once he sets off.

"When I'm racing I won't notice much else other than the crowds," he said.

He wants to take risks during the race, and try to push into the top 10.

Rather than staying in hectic London, the Canadian trio has been hidden away in an Athletics Canada training camp in Germany.

"It's very quiet here and that is fine because two weeks straight in the (athletes) village would be overwhelming," the 33-year-old runner noted.

But the itch will soon come to get to London.

Next Sunday he'll eat some cereal, a banana and a power bar then step onto a red carpet of stone, usually reserved for kings and queens.

Then all three Canadians will try to make history in a place that, like no other city on Earth, knows how to celebrate such things.

Thane.burnett@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @thane.burnett