It is well documented that as the temperature around an endurance athlete increases, performance decreases. And while one can train for and adapt to warm race conditions to mitigate that decrease, the effect remains. But at the highest levels of competition, control of the mind may make all the difference.
Given the conditions, conventional wisdom would dictate a cautious pace for the Olympic men’s marathon, but that’s not the way it played out. With temperatures in the 28-29C range by mid-race (mid 80s F), the pace was termed “suicidal”, with a 1:02:37 half split. I expected the lead pack to wither at 18-20 miles, but that’s not what happened at all. Ultimately, Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya prevailed in 2:06:32, smashing the Olympic record by nearly three minutes, and giving Kenya its first men’s marathon gold. Perhaps more amazing is that the run was only two minutes shy of Haile Gebrselassie’s world best run last year at the Berlin Marathon under far superior conditions. One can only imagine what Wanjiru might be capable of in the years to come.
A very good race recap may be found here.
A graph of men’s and women’s world and Olympic marathon records may be found here.