“The marathon is everywhere. It has a spiritual component that nobody sees but it is crucial.
It teaches you to wait and then also to strike, it is a metaphor for existence.”
Seoul organised the 1988 Olympics and showed the world that it was a modern country. The women marathon had already taken place on September 23, with victory for the Portuguese Rosa Mota, accompanied in the podium by Lisa Martin, from Australia, and Katrin Dörre, from East Germany. To read about this race you can check our previous post.
Men´s marathon was scheduled for October 2 at 14.30. It was the last day of the Olympics, and the marathon theor last event. Weather conditions seemed demanding for running a marathon: 74% humidity, 24°C and sunny. The field had never been so large: 118 athletes from 66 countries. Africa was for the first time the most represented continent. Despite these numbers, one of the favourites was missing: Belayneh Dinsamo, from Ethiopia, who had set a world-record of 2.06.50 in Boston that would stay in place for the next 10 years.
Gelindo Bordin was born in Longare, Italy. His early running career was no impressive: only managed a 5th place in the 10000 metres of the Universiada of 1979. He decided to try his luck in the marathon in 1984 in Milan. An impressive 2.13.20 finish time in his first race showed huge potential in the long distance. In 1985 he got a new personal best in the inaugural IAAF Marathon World Cup, in Hiroshima, and he did it again by winning at the European Athletics Championships of 1986 in Stuttgart with 2.10.54. In 1987 he managed a third place at the World Athletics Championships in Rome, and already in 1988 improved his PB again, running the Boston marathon in 2.09.27 (although finishing 4th). Thus, Bordin arrived at Seoul at his peak.
As it happens usually in long distance events of big championships, athletes tend to start at an “easy” pace, favouring early big groups. In Seoul it wasn´t different, and 19 runners were still in a big group headed by Juma Ikangaa, from Tanzania, when crossing the 10k (30.32).
By the 20k (1.01.21) only one second separated a first group with 14 runners, and a second one with 10. The silver medallist at Los Angeles 1984, John Treacy from Ireland, was the only top contender who had retired.
The intense pace and warming weather started taking a dent. At 30k (1.32.49) seven runners were at the front, with other of the favourites, Rob de Castella from Australia falling 2s behind.
By the 35k it was clear that the medals would be a fight between Bordin, Ikangaa, the current world champion Douglas Wakiihuri (Kenya), Ahmed Salah (Djibouti), second-fastest marathon time ever (at the time) 2.07.07, Charles Spedding (UK) who had won the bronze in Los Angeles 1984, and Japanese Takeyuki Nakayama.
Already in a single line Salah crossed the 40k (2.03.39) first, 4s ahead of Wakiihuri, and an extra 2s from Bordin. But Bordin was known by his steady pace and keeping to it he managed to step up front taking advantage of the downhill section. Thus, he entered first into the stadium, greeted the crowd and claimed gold in 2.10.32.
Bordin won a gold medal in marathon for Italy, although he hadn´t been the first Italian crossing the finish line first: Dorando Pietri did so in London 1908. Wakiihuri entered second in 2.10.47, while Salah got third in 2.10.59.
After the Olympics Bordin still managed to win the Boston Marathon of 1990 and become European Champion in Split (Croatia) that same year. He eventually returned to the Olympics in Barcelona 1992, but injured during the race and was unable to finish.
He retired shortly afterwards, finishing a successful career in the marathon distance, and being the only male athlete to have won both, the Olympics and the Boston Marathon.
A video with the highlights of the marathon at Seoul 1988:
“The Olympic Marathon”, DE Martin & RWH Gynn. Human Kinetics, 2000.