Eritrean teenager Ghirmay Ghebreslassie became the youngest ever marathon world champion when he stunned a strong field of fellow East Africans to win the first title of the Beijing championships on Saturday.
The 19-year-old eased clear of the field over the final six kilometres and crossed the line in two hours, 12 minutes and 27 seconds to claim a first world championships gold medal for his country.
“I cannot explain what I am feeling, I am so happy,” he said.
“I am so proud of this victory. My medal is the first gold medal in Eritrean history. It is a very special thing for our history.
“My parents wanted me to be a great student but I wanted to be a great athlete. Today’s victory will be a great surprise to them.”
Ethiopian Yemane Tsegay, who led briefly before Ghebreslassie’s final surge, finished 40 seconds behind the Eritrean , while Uganda’s Solomon Mutai claimed bronze in 2.13.29.
“I was very close to him and started to think about gold but at 38km I had stomach problems and had to slow down a bit,” Tsegay said.
“Maybe it was because of the hot weather.”
Handed his nation’s flag just before he entered the arena, Ghebreslassie ran the final straight with it to claim Eritrea’s second world championship medal after Zersenay Tadesse’s 10,000m silver in 2009.
“Here it is very difficult, but we Eritreans never give up until the finish line,” he said
Ruggero Pertile of Italy, who led for much of the middle part of the race, finished fourth, while Uganda’s Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich gave up the world title he won two years ago from sixth place.
The Kenyans had a disappointing morning with world record holder Dennis Kimetto and previous world record holder Wilson Kipsang both failing to finish and Paris marathon champion Mark Korir crossing the line in 22nd place.