London, UKThe 100th anniversary of the marathon distance as we know it today was marked in the most fitting way this morning when Kenyan Martin Lel led three men under 2:06 for the greatest in-depth men’s marathon in history.
Irina Mikitenko sprung a surprise to become the first German winner of the women’s race for 14 years, beating the Russian veteran Svetlana Zakharova and the fancied Gete Wami who was third.
The Flora London Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
In the city where the marathon distance of 26 miles 385 yards was first established at the 1908 Olympics, Lel joined Mexico’s Dionicio Ceron and Antonio Pinto of Portugal as a triple London winner, retaining his crown and breaking the six-year-old course record in 2:05:15.
In the closing stages of one of the quickest races in history, run at World record pace for 20 miles, Lel somehow still had the energy for a flying sprint at the finish. He needed it, for his young compatriot Sammy Wanjiru, and Abderrahim Goumri, the Moroccan who’d finished second last year, stuck with him through the last few wet and gruelling miles.
But the Kenyan proved yet again that he has the strongest finish in marathon racing as he pulled away over the last quarter of a mile to break his personal best by almost a minute and a half. In only his second full marathon, Wanjiru finished second in 2:05:24, clipping 75 seconds from his best, with Goumri third in 2:05:30 (Moroccan record), a massive 2 minutes 14 seconds inside his PB.
With another Kenyan, Emmanuel Mutai, clocking 2:06:15 in fourth, USA’s Ryan Hall fifth in 2:06:17, and the Ethiopian Deriba Merga sixth in 2:06:38, this was also the first time that six men have run under 2:07.
“To win this race you have to work extra hard,” said the delighted Lel after winning his third London title in four years. “There were lots of runners in the field who could come first. So the chance of winning two in a row is very long.”
“This is one of the best races I have done. Now I want to come back next year and make it three in a row.”
With five of the elite field all from Kenya, the race was dubbed an unofficial Kenyan Olympic trial, and both Lel and Wanjiru must surely have sealed their places for Beijing.
“I’ve got 2:05 so now I can go the Olympics,” was the smiling 21-year-old’s response.
For Goumri, second last year and in New York in November, there was ample compensation in knowing he had broken Khalid Khannouchi’s Moroccan record.
On World record schedule
The pacemakers set off at a blistering pelt in near perfect conditions – 11°C and sunny – leading the pack through mile one in 4:44. They’d been asked to run at 2:05 pace (62:30 at half way), and already seemed intent on living up to that promise.
They clipped through 10km in 29:10 and at eight miles were still on course for an incredible time of around 2:03. They passed 15km in 44:00 and 10 miles in 47:12. Despite the speed, however, Lel never looked troubled; indeed, he even appeared to be holding himself back.
A group of nine passed half way in a spectacular 62:14, well inside World record pace, and one of the quickest first halves ever seen. But then the numbers began to dwindle as first South Africa’s Hendrick Ramaala, then Felix Limo struggled.
The pacemakers dropped away at 30km (1:28:29) and Wanjiru took up the front running duties, reducing the leading group to five, with Lel, Mutai, Kifle and Goumri on the young Kenyan’s heels.
Then the wind hit
At 18 miles they were still seven seconds inside Gebrselassie’s World record pace, with 4:45 miles needed during the run-in to beat his mark. But the long run for home from the Docklands to Westminster would be into a headwind, and oncoming cold rain.
The weather clearly had an affect for the 21st mile was the first run outside five minutes (5:05), allowing Hall to rejoin the leaders. With the rain in their faces the pace slowed through the 5km to 35km (1:43:54) as they fell outside world record pace for the first time.
Goumri, Lel, Merga and Wanjiru powered on along the rain-sodden highway towards the Tower and down onto the Embankment. The two Kenyans ran stride for stride, with Goumri and Merga tucked in behind. Merga was the first to crack as they rain eased, while Lel, his hat long-since discarded, looked around him, checking his opponents.
After such a quick race, remarkably, the champion still looked like a Sunday morning jogger, dodging the puddles. He made his first move in Birdcage Walk and led round the corner into The Mall, blasting for the line like a fast-finishing miler to break Khannouchi’s course record.
Lel’s last 385 yards was timed at 57 seconds as the first three set the fifth, sixth and seventh quickest times ever. Lel, already well-known as a champion racer, is now one of the world’s quickest, sitting fourth behind Gebrselassie, Paul Tergat and Sammy Korir on the world all-time list.
“As the champion I was under pressure to do something today,” said Lel later. “They asked for something and I gave something. We had a chance to break the World record. A chance.”
“The guy is just faster than me,” said Goumri. “But it was a great race.”
Indeed, it was.
After starting in calm, cool sunshine, Mikitenko battled the wind and rain in the closing stages to become the first German winner in London since Katrin Dorre took the third of her trio of titles in 1994. Leading for much of the race, the 35-year-old shrugged off the challenge of Gete Wami, the World Marathon Majors champion, and Russia’s Svetlana Zakharova over the last three miles to cross the line in 2:24:14.
The 37-year-old Zakharova finished second for the third time in 2:24:39 in her first London Marathon for four years, while Wami overcame a dramatic fall at 30km to finish third in 2:25:37.
“I was in such good shape I knew I could do it,” said the former Kazakhstani, who ran an aggressive race from the start. “I am so happy to win my first marathon and I know I have much more to show at this distance.”
Zakharova, competing in only her second race since giving birth for the first time just over a year ago, was rewarded at the finish with a phone call from the Russian federation confirming her selection for the Olympic Games.
“This is the start of a new career after two years off,” she said. “I am very happy to know I have a place at the Olympics after my performance today.”
Wami, who beat Mikitenko in Berlin last September, had to be satisfied with third after her second place last year. “I have never fallen before,” she said. “If I hadn’t fallen I would have run much better. I am disappointed but pleased that I recovered to finish third.”
Large pack take short diversion
A slow first half was enlivened only when a large pack was directed out of danger from a gas leak at 13 miles for a couple of hundred metres. Shortly after halfway Wami, wearing long white socks, made the first significant move as the runners strode through Wapping. Shadowed by her compatriot Berhane Adere and Algeria’s Souad Ait Salem, and matched by the ever-present Mikitenko, she struck out for the Docklands running 5:13, the second quickest of the race, a move that separated seven runners from the rest.
With Kenya’s Salina Kosgei, Ludmila Petrova and Zakharova they were approaching the 30km drinks station near Canary Wharf when Ait Salem fell in front of Wami. The Ethiopian’s face, hands and knee struck the tarmac and she lost 100 metres, about 30 seconds, on the leaders.
“When I got up the first thing I did was check my teeth,” she said later. “It felt as if they had fallen out.”
Her recovery was anything but toothless, however. Slowly she made up the ground and joined the leading five as the runners turned east and headed back towards the centre of London. Now the race was on and Wami, remarkably, began to push the pace.
Kosgei dropped off the back while both Adere and Petrova started to struggle. Zakharova, defying her 37 years, stuck to Mikitenko and Wami as they passed 35km in 2:00:26. These three were clear and ready to face the long push for home down the Embankment with a breeze in their faces.
Final breakaway in Mile 24
As the rain began to fall Mikitenko put in another effort. Running 5:13 for mile 24, equal to the second quickest of the race, she finally got away, leaving Zakharova and the bruised and battered Wami in her wake.
Zakharova did her best to make up the gap, but Mikitenko was too strong. With the Thames on her left she grimaced through the rain, visibly buoyed by her growing lead as she strode through Parliament Square, up Birdcage Walk and past Buckingham Palace to The Mall.
She sprinted to the line like the former track runner she is. “I had so much energy left at the end,” she said. “I knew I could run much faster in the last 5km because at the beginning we were so slow.”
What effect the fall had on Wami’s chances we can only leave to speculation, although she was clearly in pain as she limped across the line.
When Mikitenko finished second behind Wami in Berlin her husband had told her to slow down. This time she ran her own focused race, not even aware of Wami’s fall until the end.
“I always felt that I could do it,” she said. “But I didn’t realise I was alone until 40km, that’s when I knew.”
Matthew Brown for the IAAF
1, M Lel (Kenya) 2:05:15 PB
2, S Wanjiru (Kenya) 2:05:24 PB,
3, A Goumri (Morocco) 2:05:30 MAR rec,
4, E Mutai (Kenya) 2:06:15 PB,
5, R Hall (USA) 2:06:17 PB,
6, D Merga (Ethiopia) 2:06:38 PB,
7, Y Kifle (Eritrea) 2:08:51,
8, F Limo (Kenya) 2:10:34,
9, A Sokolov (Russia) 2:11:41,
10, H Ramaala (South Africa) 2:11:44.
1, I Mikitenko (Germany) 2:24:14 PB,
2, S Zakharova (Russia) 2:24:39,
3, G Wami (Ethiopia) 2:25:37,
4, S Kosgei (Kenya) 2:26:30,
5, L Petrova (Russia) 2:26:45,
6, S Ait Salem (Algeria) 2:27:41,
7, B Adere (Ethiopia) 2:27:42,
8, C Dita (Romania) 2:27:45,
9, L Yelling (Great Britain) 2:28:33 PB,
10, A Pirtea (Romania) 2:28:52.