Martin Lel set his sights on Haile Gebrselassie’s World record today just 24 hours after winning his third Flora London Marathon title in one of the greatest marathons of all time.
“It will be up to my manager to decide when and where to do it,” said the 29-year-old Kenyan. “But this victory has given me confidence that I can break the World record.
“I needed to improve my best time and now, after yesterday, I know I can break it. I am very sure, if my manager decides, that I can do it and bring the record back to Kenya.”
Lel not only lowered his own marathon best by nearly a minute and half but also broke Khalid Khannouchi’s 2002 course record, joining Dionicio Ceron and Antonio Pinto as three-time London winners.
The defending champion shrugged off his young compatriot Sammy Wanjiru and Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco in the last quarter of a mile to cross the line first in 2:05:15, 23 seconds inside Khannouchi’s mark, which was a world record at the time.
Wanjiru and Goumri also ran quicker than the old course record as three men went under 2:06 for the first time ever, and six men made marathon history by dipping under 2:07. After going through half way in 62:14, the leaders missed the World 30km record (1:28:00) by only 29 seconds, and seven men remained on World record pace until the 21st mile.
Lel, who looked comfortable throughout despite the record speed, said today that only a cold rain and biting headwind over the last five miles prevented him beating Gebrselassie’s figures of 2:04:26.
“I was thinking we would go under 2:04,” he said. “But the wind and the rain made it hard. My friend Wanjiru is so strong, he can push and push, and I was sure he would take us under the record.
“But the weather was so tough, sometimes I couldn’t see the road because the rain was against us and the wind was hard.”
'We can go under the record here'
Lel said, before yesterday’s race, he didn’t believe London’s rolling, twisting course could produce a World record but the pace on Sunday convinced him the record is possible in the British capital.
“On a course like this it is very hard to run under 2:05,” he said. “But if we have guys like Wanjiru and we run for each other, we can go under the World record here.”
Indeed, Lel said he would prefer to attempt the record as part of a competitive race, rather than in a staged solo run. “I need someone to run with,” said the man renowned for his sprint finish. “The most important thing is the weather, to have medium temperatures, no strong winds or rain, and the course must be good, flat and fast.
“But I have no doubt that if we have a World record in mind, then it’s better to do it together than alone.”
Next stop Beijing!
The next challenge for Lel, who won a total of $130,000 for his efforts on Sunday, is likely to be the Olympic Games in Beijing. The Kenyan federation is due to announce the team next month but Lel received congratulations from Kenyan officials last night and was given a strong indication that he will be selected.
“I hope that I will be in the Olympics,” he said. “In big city races I have been trying to improve my time, but what I am lacking is a big win in a major championships or Olympics.
“I am confident now that I have a chance in Beijing, if not to win, then at least to finish in the top three. Yesterday has given me confidence that I can do something positive at the Olympics.”
Mikitenko is focussed on China too
The Games will now be the main preoccupation of the women’s champion, Irina Mikitenko, too.
The Kazakhstani-born athlete described her first marathon victory as “a special day” after reaping the rewards of some aggressive front-running tactics to become the first German winner since Katrin Dorre in 1994.
“This was only my second marathon but I was able to show that I can run from the front and win from there,” she said after breaking some stiff resistance from Svetlana Zakharova and Gete Wami in the final three miles.
Mikitenko, who lowered her personal best by more than half a minute with a time of 2:24:14, now believes she can go much faster given the right conditions. In Berlin last year, when she was second to Wami, her husband Alex had told her to slow down in the latter stages of the race and yesterday she faced a downpour in as she headed towards the finish after a desperately slow start.
Unlike Lel, who won what was described as an unofficial Kenyan Olympic trial, Mikitenko was already assured of selection for Beijing before the race.
“I could run for experience and without pressure yesterday,” she said. “The Olympics won’t be fast but I know I can run faster in the future. Perhaps I can experiment with a fast race in London next year.”
Lel is also likely to be back, aiming to become the first man to win four London Marathon titles. By then, he might well be the Olympic champion. Who knows, he could be the World record holder too.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF