With just 121 days until the Tokyo Paralympic Games begin, Michael Roeger (ACT) and Jaryd Clifford (VIC) have broken the world records in their respective classes at Athletics Australia’s Tokyo Qualifying Marathon in Sydney on Sunday 25 April.
Proving unstoppable, Roeger recorded his fourth consecutive marathon world record when he crossed the line at 2:18.52 to slash 40 seconds off his personal best.
The record came as no surprise for the 32-year-old, who made his intentions clear yesterday as he set off for his final marathon attempt before the Tokyo Games this August.
“I’m really happy with that. I got a 40 second PB and world record and that gives me a lot of confidence leading into the Paralympics in August and September this year. Hopefully I’ll stand on top of the podium and sing the national anthem proudly,” Roeger said.
Finishing victoriously after a gruelling final 6km, Roeger said his result was made all the more satisfying having not contested a marathon since the Houston Marathon in January 2020.
“I wasn’t quite confident in that last six kilometres. My legs were cramping but I just had to hold it together. Now I’ve got 2:18 next to my name, and that’s giving me loads of confidence in these last few months of training. I’ll now reset and respect the distance and then do the Gold Coast Half Marathon, and then it’s all roads to Tokyo.”
The feat is just one among a flurry of strong performances from Roeger this year, after he broke the 5000m T46 world record at the Sydney Track Classic last month. His results highlight his depth in distance running he attempts to win his first gold medal at his fourth Paralympics Games.
In contrast to Roeger, Clifford’s world record of 2:19.08 in the T12 class for vision impaired athletes was as much a surprise to him as it was to the spectators at Sydney International Regatta Centre .
Hitting the road as a pacemaker for Roeger, Clifford had no intention to finish the course but mustered up the strength and energy to match the pace of his training partner and finish his maiden marathon. The result is almost two and a half minutes faster than the previous world record set by El Amin Chentouf of Morocco in 2015.
“I came out here and just wanted to get Roegs as far as possible. I think he asked me at 15km how many laps I had left in me, and I think I said I had two. Then I had one more, and then another. I feel a bit silly upon reflection, but I think psychologically all I was doing throughout the race was focus on Roegs who is going for the gold medal at the Paralympics in Tokyo,” Clifford said.
“I was telling him in the last 10km that this was for the gold medal in Tokyo so all he has to do was run as hard as he can and he’d win a gold medal for Australia.
“I can’t even remember the last time I did a long run. I did Nationals last week and did a 4 x 400m relay for Uni Nationals on Wednesday so I feel a bit silly now having broken that world record.”
Although his performance was significantly faster than the Paralympic qualification standard for the T12 marathon in Tokyo, Clifford will still focus his efforts on the track in an attempt to win Paralympic gold in the 1500m and 5000m T12 events.
Philo Saunders, who coaches both Roeger and Clifford and who also ran as a pacemaker for Roeger, said he was thrilled to see both athletes reap the rewards of their hard work over the past year since the Tokyo Games were postponed.
“Being out there with them, they’re some of the best moments of my running career. Knowing how hard they work and seeing them succeed, it’s just enjoyable,” Saunders said.
“Tokyo getting cancelled was a big deal. They were in gold medal position and then that got taken from under them. Roegs couldn’t run for four months (due to injuries) and we didn’t know if he’d be at the same level again, so this marathon was massive for us.
“This run is something that has given him confidence to win that gold medal, his first Paralympic gold medal at the Games. We had a big pacing team behind him, but two got injured so Jaryd and I stepped up to try and get him as far as we could. The way it played out was amazing.
“Jaryd has been training for the 1500m, and today shows his potential for the marathon. These are two of the best athletes Australia has ever seen and they’re going to be standing on top of the podium with gold medals for Australia.”
In other results, Caden Shields (NZ) flew across the Tasman to win gold on Anzac Day in 2:16.07. While Shields was unable to match the Tokyo Olympic qualifying time of 2:11.30, he comfortably defeated Australian David Ridley (2:17.20) and Great Britain’s Nicholas Earn, who won bronze in 2:18.52.
The sole woman in the field, Ruth Croft (NZ), was unable to complete her attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic marathon.