A second consecutive victory at the London Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in the second-fastest time in history of 2:03:05 further endorsed Eliud Kipchoge’s credentials as one of the greatest marathon runners in history on Sunday (24).
The Kenyan, who looks destined to represent his country at his third Olympic Games in Rio, looked frustrated to miss the world record by eight seconds as he put his head in his hands immediately after finishing but he didn’t express any exasperation in the post-race press conference.
“I realised I was a few seconds off the world record. It was not really disappointment,” he said, although he had earlier confirmed he had no idea he was so close over the final kilometre to the world record of 2:02:57 set by his compatriot Dennis Kimetto in Berlin two years ago.
Not for the first time in London, the pace in the opening stages of the men’s race was blisteringly fast with a large pack escorted by pacemakers covering the early miles at close to two-hour pace for the distance.
The projected finish-time began to slow gradually in the second quarter but the halfway split of 1:01:24, with six athletes in contact at the front, was the fastest in marathon history by three seconds.
By this point, Kimetto had dropped six seconds off the leading group and his recent indifferent string of results continued, as he ultimately finished ninth in 2:11:44.
His training partner Wilson Kipsang – a past two-time winner and the course record-holder in London – began to toil after passing through 25km in 1:12:39 with the reigning champion Kipchoge, 2015 New York Marathon winner Stanley Biwott and multiple track world record-holder Kenenisa Bekele the only runners left in contention.
Kipsang’s course record looked destined to fall and Kimetto’s course record was still in view through 30km, which was passed in a world record (subject to ratification) of 1:27:13.
Bekele was in the process of staging a brilliant return to form after a litany of injuries over the past 18 months but even the world 5000m and 10,000m record-holder started to lose ground as the two Kenyans continued to press ahead at a frantic pace.
However, Biwott remained in contention, looking for his second big city win in succession, and the head-to-head aspect of the race began to take precedence over maintaining the world record pace.
The 21st, 22nd and 23rd miles were among the slowest of the race – covered in 4:51, 4:47 and 4:50 respectively – but Kipchoge put in a faster 4:38 mile to break away from Biwott just before the 40km checkpoint was reached in 1:56:49.
Kipchoge, a 5000m world champion back in 2003, drew upon some of his famed speed from the track as he covered the closing 2.2km in one of the fastest times in history at the end of the marathon, 6:16, to finish just eight seconds adrift of Kimetto’s illustrious mark. But his winning time of 2:03:05 was still a course record and a personal best by 55 seconds.
Biwott moved up to sixth on the world all-time lists in second place with 2:03:51 and, despite losing ground on the leaders in the last quarter of the race, Bekele finished third in 2:06:36 off less than two months of structured training.
Eritrea’s world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie claimed fourth in 2:07:46, a personal best by one second, just ahead of Kipsang in fifth in 2:07:52.
Callum Hawkins ran an even-paced race to finish as the top Briton in eighth place in 2:10:52 to make the British team for Rio.
Sumgong recovers from fall to claim victory
A fast time looked on the cards early in the women’s race with the lead group covering the first 10km in 32:43 courtesy of the trademark aggressive running of Mary Keitany. But with Olympic places on the line, the race soon developed into a more cagey affair than the men’s race.
A group of seven, all from Kenya or Ethiopia, were bunched together through the halfway point, passed in 1:10:45, and 30km in 1:41:39.
The decisive moment came just before the 35km checkpoint when the tight bunching caused a collision with Jemima Sumgong, Aselefech Mergia and Mary Keitany all falling hard to the road.
Repeatedly clutching her head as she pursued the leaders, Sumgong seemed to come off the worst in the collision but the Kenyan was the only faller to regain contact with the pack.
Soon after, seemingly against the odds, Sumgong hit the front with real purpose.
After a succession of slower miles, Sumgong covered the 23rd, 24th and 25th miles in 5:15, 5:13 and 5:16 respectively to shake off her challengers except for defending champion Tigist Tufa.
Sumgong’s 25th mile split of 5:16 was enough to forge a small gap on Tufa and this gap largely remained the same to the finish.
After a string of near misses with second-place finishes in New York, Boston and Chicago to her name, Sumgong claimed her biggest win to date in 2:22:58 with Tufa second in 2:23:03.
World half marathon record-holder Florence Kiplagat didn’t enjoy the best preparation coming into this race but came home third in 2:23:39 while former international race walker Volha Mazuronak from Belarus ran a sizeable negative second half split of 1:10:35 – faster than the Belarusian half marathon record – to claim a surprise fourth in a lifetime best of 2:23:54.
Mergia rallied in the closing stages to claim fifth in 2:23:57 but Keitany, who was beginning to struggle even before she fell, faded back to ninth in 2:28:30.
Steven Mills for the IAAF