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The Gourmet Runner

Berlin Marathon, Germany

Mona Returns: 27 Years On

Written on: October 12, 2016

In the late 1980s, Steve Moneghetti was one of the leading marathon runners in the world but he didn’t have a win on the board. His focus was Championships - bronze in his debut at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, fourth at the 1987 World Championships, fifth at the 1988 Olympic Games, and silver at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.

In those four years, his only ‘big city’ marathon was London in 1989, where he was out sprinted by his Kenyan nemesis Douglas Wakiihuri. He came up just three seconds shy of the then world champion as they raced to the finish on Westminster Bridge.

Following the Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1990, where Steve was again second to Wakiihuri, he and coach Chris Wardlaw sought a suitable ‘big city’ race so Steve could pursue both an international win and a fast time.

They opted for Berlin – not then recognised as the ‘world’s fastest marathon’ but historically significant because it was to be the first marathon following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Wardlaw recalls the process that led to this decision. “A few reasons – it was a big important first race in unified Berlin, input from Mona’s sponsor Nike, a fast course was pretty much guaranteed, plus there was a good field and pace. And there were twin races in the package as Mona also ran the Great North Run two weeks prior to Berlin”.

Most importantly, Wardlaw adds “Of course, this was all planned many months in advance”.

The rest is history. First, Steve finally beat Wakiihuri for his first international victory at the Great North Run, recording a world best time of 60.34 - the fastest half marathon run to that date. Then in Berlin he not only won but was the first to break 2.10 in Berlin. His time of 2.08.16 was the fastest in the world in 1990 and helped pave the way for Berlin to become the perennial world record breaking race over the following 27 years.

Race director at the time, Horst Milde, recalls: “The 17th Berlin Marathon was an athletic international sensation - three days prior to German unification. East and West Berlin had been divided for 28 years and that year’s race was the first time a marathon could lead through both parts of the city again.

“Mona’s victory and world best was the icing on the cake for the Berlin Marathon with 25000 runners from 61 countries. It was the breakthrough for Berlin as a world class event, which now proudly boasts ten world records. Mona’s victory was a historic event for Berlin and for him.”

The race was hard fought, with the first four runners breaking 2.10. Tanzanian Gidamis Shahanga finished on strongly 16 seconds behind Steve in 2.08.32, with East Germany’s Jorg Peter third in 2.09.23 and Stefan Freigang fourth in 2.09.45. 

It is interesting to reflect on Steve’s times 27 years down the track. Back in 1990 there were no world road running records. The fastest times were simply recognised as ‘world best performances’. In 2004, after some 20 years of lobbying by AIMS, the IAAF established appropriate criteria and recognised world road running records.

Under this new criteria Steve’s time at the Great North Run would not have been recognised as the world record because the course in northern England has excessive drop and separation – in other words, overall it is a downhill course and its point to point nature can give runners an unfair advantage in the case of favourable winds.

On the other hand, under the new IAAF criteria, Steve’s Berlin time would be the Australian record. Deek ran faster (2.07.51 in 1986) at Boston – but Boston, like Great North, fails the test for world records because it, too, has excessive drop and separation.

This two week period was an obvious career highlight for Steve, even though he continued to run competitive marathons for another ten years.

Steve recalls, “Berlin certainly got the monkey off my back for always being a placegetter but not able to close a marathon out.

“Due to the added significance of the German Reunification at the time the profile of the event was high so to win it in the fastest time of the year established me as one of the best marathon runners in the world at the time.

“It was also the 13th fastest marathon time in history to that point so I felt that I had made it as one of the world’s great marathon runners.

“It also took me to number two on the Australian all time list behind Deek and just ahead of Derek – both who I held in very high esteem.

“My main memory was that I felt some pressure having ran a world best for the half marathon just two weeks prior so it was nice to live up to the hype.

“It was also a Reebok race so to win it was a big coup for Nike & good for my bank balance.”

At the awards ceremony Steve was handed the keys to a spanking new Mercedes Benz 300E. Although he took the money, he did buy a Mercedes when he got back to Ballarat. In Peter Howley’s book “In the Long Run”, Steve said “I now have a symbol, a physical reminder of all the hard work and the memories of Berlin every time I drive it. I’ll never get rid of it for that reason – it’s a prize”.

But even German engineering has a life span and Mona traded up to another Mercedes in 2006! And that car is still in the family with daughter Emma at the wheel.

Post Berlin highlights include a win in the Tokyo Marathon early in 1994, followed later that year by a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games – giving him the full set of Commonwealth medals.

Steve summed up his marathon career this way, “… 22 international marathons finishing 11th or higher in 20 of them (three wins, four seconds, two thirds, two fourths, one fifth, one sixth, two sevenths, one eighth, one ninth, two tenths, one eleventh, one 29th and one 48th) - pretty good record and I think I get the award for consistency!!”

Steve ran four Olympic marathons, pulling down the curtain on his representative career in Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, announcing “over and out from Steve Moneghetti” after another Olympic top 10 finish.

Steve has never stopped running, and 16 years later he remains competitive in fun runs all over Australia, not to mention the odd world age record along the way.

Next year Mona returns to Berlin for the first time since 1990. As well as participate in the marathon, he will host RunFun Travel’s annual Berlin Marathon Tour. You are invited to come along, share the fun, re-live the memories and enjoy the camaraderie.

In the words of Horst Milde, founder of the Berlin Marathon, “Berlin is looking forward to welcoming Steve Moneghetti again!”

© Copyright Dave Cundy

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