Now 48, he stood on Sunday at the start line of the “Athens Marathon. The Authentic”, in the town of Marathon, just as he had done in his athletic prime. This time no honours beyond that of a distinctive finisher’s medal, commemorating the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, were at stake.
But there was still a tingle of expectation: “The emotion is the same, I think, but my body is different. You know, 15 years are enough to change a lot. We have been to Athens many times since 2004 but I had never been on the start line till now.”
In a running career which encompassed two European marathon titles in 1998 and 2006 as well as two World championship bronze medals, this “Grande Campione” proved the ultimate competitor on August 29, 2004. Whatever he might feel inside, the body scarcely looks different and he clearly maintains a good level of fitness, though approached this year’s event with caution since the extra long runs of his heyday are in the past now: “I run no more than 30 km in training and I was focused on the second part of the race, not to watch the clock but to run it relaxed, enjoy the course, the last 10 km because the last 10 km in 2004 were absolutely marvellous for me.”
Speaking of watching the clock, Stefano Baldini has, like the rest of the marathon world, been keenly following the developments of 2019, notably Eliud Kipchoge’s achievement in breaking two hours in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna in October. A distinctive event, certainly, far from the usual marathon race but Baldini believes the day will come when two hours will be broken in a “traditional” marathon and there is currently only one man who can do it: “Eliud, of course, he can do it because he finished in Vienna with a lot of power, a lot of energy. I know that is a different thing to run the same time in London or Berlin, Rotterdam or Dubai. But I think he understood in Vienna that all is possible and breaking two hours in those conditions is the same level as the world record in Berlin. He has possibly broken the mental barrier and with this barrier broken, he can try it. I don’t know when because next year there will be the Olympics and he is 35-years-old but he is the only one, for me, who can break the barrier.”
The “Athens Marathon. The Authentic.” has broken barriers of its own in rising from what might have been the end of the road for the event in the depth of Greece’s economic plight. Now the marathon and its associated running events have again achieved record entries of 60,000 in 2019, including moving the 10 km road race to the centre of Athens on Saturday evening. It prompted Kostas Panagopoulos, president of SEGAS, the Hellenic Athletics Federation, the event organizers, to consider further ambitions: “We have with the race [10 km] on Saturday evening made the first step for further development. Now it is important to develop the infrastructure at the start of the marathon. Now that things are gradually improving for us financially, it is important to act quickly and develop the start area. It appears that the Athens Marathon can grow still further but that also applies to our other races, especially the Half Marathon in spring.”
As for Stefano Baldini, his recovery plans after breaking three hours (2:57:07) on his return to the Athens course were rather different to those amidst Olympic triumph in 2004. Standing in his kit beside the finish line in the Panathenaic Stadium, where the first Olympic Marathon of the modern era also culminated in 1896, he could look ahead to a restful Sunday: “Today I will take lunch with my family, they are all here, my wife and three children. Our eldest daughter is a sprinter, she runs 400 metres. I’ll be having lunch with them.”
A well deserved Sunday afternoon with the family, also merited by every finisher among the 20,000 who had stood on the start line in Marathon hours before.
Further information can be found online at: www.athensauthenticmarathon.gr
Photo Victah Sailer / AMA