The first world’s elite marathoner that I’ve seen in person was Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany and I consider him as my No. 1 Olympic Champion for the Marathon up to this time.
In Montreal Olympics in 1976, he defeated Frank Shorter, the defending Gold Medalist in the Tokyo Olympics Marathon in 1972, in the last three miles of the race with a time of 2:09:55. In the Moscow Olympics in 1980, he won again after outsprinting Europe’s Marathon Champion Gerard Niboer of Netherlands in the last few miles of the race with a lead of 17 seconds. He finished the Moscow Olympics Marathon Race in 2:11:03. He duplicated the feat and record of the legendary Abebe Bikila of Ethopia for winning two consecutive Olympic Marathons. Up to this time, the record wins of these two elite marathoners are not yet erased.
Cierpinski joined the 1982 Manila International Marathon which to my experience and opinion was the “golden age” of marathon running in the country. I really don’t know how much money did the organizers or the government at that time paid for the “fees” for his attendance to the race. But looking at him at the starting line was already a strong motivation for me to run more marathons in the future. At that time, he was 32 years old as he was two years older than me. He is tall with long, lean, muscled legs with thinning hair and smiling face.
After the 1982 Manila International Marathon, I never heard of any Olympic Marathon Champion or World Marathon Champion or any Marathon Champion in any Key Cities of the World’s Marathon Race to have graced or joined/finished our Marathon Race in the country.
On February 1, 1982, I could still vividly recall the smiling face of Cierpinski when I met him alone leading the race along the Guadalupe area in EDSA, to be exact, infront of the Jollibee (now) as he goes back to Ayala Avenue then to the finish line at the Quirino Grandstand. I was then going down towards the Guadalupe Bridge, towards the turnaround point at Ortigas-EDSA Crossing (at Robinson’s Galleria). That was how fast Cierpinski was and how far he was ahead of me! He was running then as if the race was a 400-meter dash when I saw him at that moment. His knees were kicking high infront of him and his feet/heels were almost touching his buttocks! This guy was not a “shuffler”, but a sprinter in a marathon race! Waldemar Cierpinski, the favorite to win, won easily and finished the race in 2 hours 14 minutes 27 seconds. (I did not remember the prize he received.)
In his preparation for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he had participated in marathon races in Japan and in the European Marathon Races with impressive times. If not for the East Germany boycott in the Los Angeles Olympics, Cierpinski could had a chance to win for his third gold in the Olympic Marathon.
The training strategy of this elite runner is long distance but fast runs. In his training practices, his running pace in his longer but faster runs was 3:20 to 3:40 mins per kilometer with a maximum total distance up to 40 kilometers. His long slow distance runs averaged a running pace of 4:00 mins per kilometer. Well, there had been controversies and complaints against him on “blood doping” but nothing had been proven. His past accomplishments were due to hard work and focused training, pushing himself to the edge of his body’s capabilities.
By the way, I finished my second Manila International Marathon in, a slower time than my first one, 3 hours 28 minutes 49 seconds.
Waldemar Cierpinski is still my “No. 1 Hero” in the Marathon Olympics.