Inspirational Michael Shelley stared down the African challenge and emerged triumphant, joining the giants of Australian distance running as the Commonwealth Games men’s marathon champion.
Shelley ran the perfect tactical race, making the crucial move on an incline coming out of a drinks station at the 36km mark, where he was able to break away from silver medallist Stephen Chemlany from Kenya.
After that, the 30-year-old Queenslander never looked like being headed.
“I think he’s looking … bloody good,” a flabbergasted Robert de Castella, who won the event in the 1982 and 1986 Commonwealth Games, said in the commentary box.
Shelley blew kisses to the crowd as he approached the finishing line, where he was hugged by members of his family and the chef de mission of the Australian side, Steve Moneghetti, who won the event in 1994.
The were further emotional scenes when compatriot Liam Adams, who came seventh, crossed the line and realised that his teammate had won the event. The pair embraced.
Later, Jessica Trengove continued Australia’s brilliant start to the athletic program when she fought her way into a gallant third place to win bronze in the women’s marathon.
Shelley, who came second in the event in the 2010 Games in Delhi, clocked a winning time of two hours 11 minutes and 15 seconds, stripping eight seconds off his personal best in the process.
Chemlany was 43 seconds adrift in second place, with Abraham Kiplimo from Uganda holding on for the bronze.
He was five minutes behind them on paper. There’s no way he should have done it.
An elated de Castella said that several of the Africans went into the race with vastly superior pedigree. “He was five minutes behind them on paper,” he said. “There’s no way he should have done it.”
Moneghetti said: “He took it to them [the Africans] and we don’t see that do we?
“We talk about the Africans and he has dropped and destroyed the Ugandans, the Tanzanians, the Kenyans behind, and he has run that race like he was the best runner and dominated it with real front running and with conviction.”
Shelley was over the moon to have joined de Castella, Moneghett and Dave Power (1958) as the only Australians to have won the men’s Commonwealth Games marathon.
“It’s indescribable to be honest, they are the legends of marathon running in Australia,” he said.
Adams also bettered his personal best in his second marathon, finishing seventh in 2:13:49, while Martin Dent struggled home in 19th spot in what was almost certainly his last major championships marathon.
Adams lauded Shelley’s ability to stay focused when the pair were temporarily dropped off the lead group approaching the one-hour mark.
“He was really smart, he didn’t go with any of the surges towards the start,” said Adams. “He ran amazing. He’s a smart runner, he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Shelley and Moneghetti also paid tribute to coach Dick Telford’s pivotal role in the victory.
Shelley is putting together an impressive major championships marathon record, having also finished a solid 16th at the 2012 London Olympics.
Trengove takes bronze
In the women’s marathon, Jess Trengove thought she was racing for fourth spot at best, until the crowd informed her that Namibian Helalia Johannes had fallen off the three-strong lead group.
Inspired by that prospect – and the news that compatriot Michael Shelley had won the men’s marathon – Trengove dug deep and reeled in the Namibian.
An emotional Trengove crossed the finish line in a personal best time of two hours 30 minutes and 12 seconds behind flying Kenyans Flomena Daniel (2:26:45) and Caroline Kilel (2:27:10).
“I actually think I passed the girl in third about where my family was standing,” said Trengove. “I’ll talk to them afterwards but I think they’ll have got a pretty good view of that.”
Among the crowd was Trengove’s younger brother Jack, who plays for AFL club Melbourne, but was allowed to travel to Europe after suffering a season-ending foot injury.
“Running down that home straight was something I have never experienced before,” said Trengove, who combines her running career with work as a physiotherapist in Adelaide.
“That’s certainly the most emotional I’ve ever been after a race. Having my family and so many Australians out there supporting me meant the world.”
Trengove did have one nervous moment early in Sunday’s race when she missed the drinks station at the 10km mark. She slowed down to make doubly sure she grabbed a drink at 15km, allowing Daniel and Kilel to break away.
Fellow Australians Melanie Panayiotou and Sarah Klein were eighth and 10th respectively.
Trengove backed up her impressive 11th-placed showing from last year’s world titles with another standout performance in a major championships race.
She also continued Australia’s proud record in the Commonwealth Games women’s marathon, with the country having produced at least one medallist at every Games where the event has been contested except for 1994.
In a tribute to the preparation of the Australian marathon team, five of the six runners in the two races ran personal best times.