Ethiopia’s pocket-sized power house Tsegay Kebede unleashed a late surge to regain the men’s title at today’s 2013 Virgin London Marathon IAAF Gold Label Road Race as Priscah Jeptoo led a Kenyan one-two to add the women’s crown to the Olympic silver medal she won on the same London streets last August.
Kebede produced one of the most dramatic finishes of recent years, coming from nearly a minute behind the leaders at 35km to overhaul Kenya’s course record-holder Emmanuel Mutai in the last quarter-mile. He sprinted across the line in 2:06:04, flashing a huge smile and victory sign at the photographers’ gantry.
The leaders had gone through half way well inside World record pace, but while many of the pre-race favourites wilted over the second half, Kebede judged it perfectly, getting stronger and stronger in the closing miles to claim his second London title after winning the Chicago Marathon last October.
In 2010 Kebede won from the front in rainy conditions; this time he battled back under cloudless skies for a victory that looked all but impossible just 3km from the end.
“I had a little pain in my side in the early part of the race,” he explained afterwards. “But as time went on, it got better and better. I could feel myself getting closer and closer to Mutai and that made me stronger.
“It was a great day to run the London Marathon, and even better to win.”
Mutai took the runner-up spot 30 seconds back, while Ayele Abshero ensured Ethiopia had two on the podium for the first time, finishing third in 2:06:57.
While there was joy for Ethiopia in the men’s race, there were tears in the women’s when Olympic champion Tiki Gelana collided with wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy at the 15km feeding station, falling to the ground.
Battered and bruised, she kept going to finish 16th while Jeptoo strode away from World champion Edna Kiplagat to take the title in 2:20:15, just a second outside the personal best she clocked to finish third last year.
“I knew this morning I was going to run well,” she said. “There was such a good field, you were always worried someone would do better, and it wasn’t until around 25 miles that I got my confidence back and felt I could win.”
Kiplagat finished second in 2:21:32, taking the runner-up spot for the second year in a row, while Yukiko Akaba sprung a surprise, coming from behind to claim third in 2:24:43, the first Japanese woman ever to make the London Marathon podium.
Kebede times finish to perfection
A poignant 30-second silence preceded the men’s start, held in remembrance of those affected by the Boston bombings. When the claxon finally sounded, the leading men set off at a pelt, led by Dennis Kimetto and Wilfred Kirwa, the two quickest men ever over 25km.
They’d been set the task of taking the field through half way in 61:45 and to remain on 2:03:30-pace to 20 miles. It was a blistering start, with a pack containing some of the greatest names in Marathon running hot on their heels.
The pace was superfast, as 10 runners passed 10km in 28:56 – too fast for Patrick Makau who was first to slip back. After dropping out last year, it was another disappointing day for the World record-holder, who eventually finished 11th in 2:14:10.
The leaders remained on World record schedule to 15km, reached in 43:43, equating to a 2:03:00 finish. Among them were defending champion Wilson Kipsang, Boston Marathon course record-holder Geoffrey Mutai, and Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich, plus Kebede, Abshero and Mo Farah, the Briton who hopes to make his Marathon debut here next year.
Farah stepped out, as expected, just before half way, his learning exercise over for now. The rest clipped through half way in 61:34, just 11 seconds quicker than planned.
By now the field was stretched as Mutai and Stanley Biwott began to make the running. They passed 25km in 1:12:58, still on World record pace, before four runners broke away – Mutai, Biwott, Abshero and Feyisa Lilesa.
Biwott made the first move shortly after 30km, leaving Lilesa way behind. Biwott reached 35km in 1:42:47, slipping behind World record pace for the first time. With a 20m lead, the race appeared to be his for the taking, but Mutai was not beaten.
Less than 2km later he flew past Biwott and soon looked a certain winner himself. With Kipsang back in sixth, Makau 11th and Geoffrey Mutai already out of the race, he looked odds on to regain the crown he won in 2011.
But the hot early speed began to take its toll and Mutai visibly slowed, giving Kebede a glimpse of a chance. Emerging from fifth at 35km and second place 28 seconds back at 40km, the Ethiopian snatched it with both hands.
He overtook Mutai along Bird Cage Walk and never looked back, rounding the final corner and sprinting down The Mall to become only the seventh man to win more than one London Marathon title.
It was the slowest winning time since 2007, but Kebede didn’t care about that. After missing out on the Olympics, Kebede has surely made his point.
Mutai held on for second as Abshero raised his game over the final miles to claim third. Lilesa was fourth with Kipsang fifth, more than three minutes behind his winning time last year.
Biwott’s effort proved too much as he slipped back to eighth, two places behind Olympic champion Kiprotich who missed his goal of a PB, finishing in 2:08:05.
Third time lucky in London for Jeptoo
Gelana’s misfortune rather clouded the women’s race. She fell in the London Olympic Marathon too, but that time picked herself up to beat Jeptoo in the pouring rain.
Conditions couldn’t have been more different today as the women set off under cloudless skies in virtually still conditions.
Gelana was immediately apparent at the front of a group of 10, with her two closest rivals Kiplagat and Jeptoo running easy alongside her. Caution seemed to be the order of the day, however, as they passed through the first mile marker in 5:20 with the pacemakers already 50 metres ahead of the field.
By two miles the leading pack numbered seven, the leading three joined by Kenyans Florence Kiplagat and Joyce Chepkirui, plus Gelana’s compatriots Atsede Baysa and Meselech Melkamu. Japanese pair Akaba and Mai Ito joined them after they passed the first 5km in 16:36, 14 seconds behind the pacemakers but on course for a 2:21:30 finish.
Gelana claims to love the rain, but at this point she looked supremely relaxed under London’s morning sun, smiling and chatting to Baysa as the runners turned west and made their way through Woolwich towards Rotherhithe and Tower Bridge.
The drama came at 15km as Gelana cut sharply across the road to reach the feeding station, unaware that the men’s wheelchair field was moving up fast on her inside. She collided with Cassidy’s chair and landed hard on her hands and knees. Kiplagat also had to check her pace as another chair appeared to clip her left foot.
Gelana picked herself up immediately and sprinted back to the group, at first seemingly none the worse for wear, but having missed her drink. She tucked herself in to collect her thoughts and assess the damage as Akaba pushed on at the head of the pack.
They passed 20km in 68:11 and crossed Tower Bridge to reach half way in 1:11:33, some way down on schedule but with all to race for.
Edna Kiplagat now made the running, putting in a 5:08 mile to 14 miles. Baysa and Chepkirui began to lose touch while Gelana was gritting her teeth, bearing the pain as she clung to the back of the leading five.
It was a valiant effort but another fast mile of 5:04 was too much for the shattered Ethiopian. By the 25km mark she was 100m behind, her chances of victory vanishing by the step.
The leading group was now down to four but when the pacemakers dropped out the three Kenyans pushed away from Melkamu. Florence Kiplagat was next to lose touch as Edna Kiplagat and Jeptoo struck out on their own around Canary Wharf.
Kiplagat briefly opened a five-metre lead as the pair passed 30km in 1:40:18, but having finished third and second here in two races last year, Jeptoo was determined not to play the bridesmaid’s role again.
Her style is all elbows and knees compared to Kiplagat’s far smoother gait, but it was she who proved to be strongest as they turned west and ran hard towards Westminster. She opened a stride’s gap, which slowly grew to two, then five before the elastic snapped and Kiplagat settled in to secure second.
Jeptoo checked her watch but not her pace, passing 35km with a 17-second lead. The last stages would be hers alone and she never wavered, striding out along the Embankment. She skirted St James’s Park and turned past Buckingham Palace to take the tape before falling to her knees in prayer.
Baysa was fourth in 2:25:14, with Malkamu fifth and the tired Florence Kiplagat sixth.
Gelana struggled home nearly 17 minutes later in 2:36:55, such a sad figure compared to the woman who powered down the same street for Olympic glory last August.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF