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Andy Birkett leads the front bunch into a portage en route to winning the gold medal in the men's marathon final at the Oak Mountain State Park at the World Games on Tuesday. Picture: IFC/BALINT VEKASSY
Andy Birkett leads the front bunch into a portage en route to winning the gold medal in the men's marathon final at the Oak Mountain State Park at the World Games on Tuesday. Picture: IFC/BALINT VEKASSY

Andy Birkett announced his return to the international marathon racing stage with a stunning gold medal at the men’s 21km marathon event at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday.

After a disappointing short course race where he battled asthma as he finished eighth, Birkett went toe-to-toe with the Danish world champion Mads Pedersen in extreme heat at the Oak Mountain State Park, and won a thrilling end-sprint to claim the title.

“The pace that Mads was setting down was insane,” said Birkett after the eight lap final. “He has taken the race from a slow, strategic race with a big end-sprint to a fast race, and to be competitive in the end-sprint you have to be there.

“I had the goal of just trying to stay with him. I don't think anyone has stuck with him in a race for a while,” said Birkett.

“I found another gear towards the end and backed myself,” said the 2018 world champion. “I am happy because yesterday I had quite a bad race.

“This is the first time back racing internationally after a long time, so I am happy to just be in the mix,” he said.

“It is always a privilege to race against the world’s top athletes and that was my intention here, to try to get back into the mix and feel what it is like.

“In SA, we have a lot of races so keeping your motivation for the sport is easy,” he said.

Bridgitte Hartley managed a 13th place finish in the women's full marathon race earlier on Tuesday.

On Monday Birkett secured an eighth in the men’s marathon short course final, while Hartley finished thirteenth in the 3.6km race won by Hungarian Vanda Kiszli, who went on to win the double by clinching the full marathon gold on Tuesday.

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