Both Kenyans will most likely run on their Olympic teams.
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
LONDON — Weather forecasters had originally predicted storms for Sunday morning’s Virgin London Marathon here, but all of the fury came from Kenyans Mary Keitany and Wilson Kipsang.
Both ran to convincing victories and probably Kenyan Olympic marathon team berths on a crisp spring morning. Keitany, the defending London champion, clocked a Kenyan record 2:18:37, and Kipsang, last year’s BMW Frankfurt Marathon champion, clocked 2:04:44, just four seconds off of Emmanuel Mutai’s one year-old course record.
KEITANY REMAINS PATIENT
Unlike at last November’s ING New York City Marathon where Keitany ran a blistering 1:07:59 first half only to fade to third place, the 30-year-old half-marathon world record holder metered her effort today perfectly. She immediately tucked in behind the pacemakers Peninah Arusei and Joyce Chepkirui and kept her emotions in check.
“New York was the best school in the world,” said Gabriele Nicola, Keitany’s Italian coach, who said that her meltdown in New York was “a slap in the face” that awakened her.
The pacemakers took the field through the first 5 kilometers in a slightly slow 16:50, but the pace quickly got rolling. Through 10K (33:36) and 15K (50:26) eight women were still in contention: Keitany, Florence Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat (the reigning world champion), Priscah Jeptoo, Lucy Kabuu (all of Kenya), Atsede Baysa, Aberu Kebede, and Koren Jelela Yal (all of Ethiopia). Germany’s Irina Mikitenko had already fallen off the pace and was 39 seconds back.
Arusei –who appeared to be struggling– dropped out, leaving Chepkirui to continue the pacing chores. She hit the halfway mark in 1:10:53, and 25K in 1:23:37, and only Jelela Yal couldn’t hold that pace, leaving seven contenders. Nicola was beginning to grow confident about Keitany’s chances.
“I was so tranquil,” Nicola said as he recalled watching Keitany run so smoothly. “I saw her face.”
The Ethiopians Kebede and Baysa drifted back during the next 5 kilometers (16:16), and with only four women left to challenge her, Keitany was getting ready to attack. She waited for the 35K mark to show her best speed.
“We were working with one another, and after 35K we decided to push,” Keitany said of her in-race alliance with Edna Kiplagat. “I was feeling OK.”
Keitany blew through the 23rd mile in 5:06 to pull away from world champion Kiplagat, then the 24th mile in an even faster 4:59. Dressed in a red top, blue shorts and green shoes, Keitany clocked 15:45 from 35 to 40 kilometers –the fastest 5K split of the day– putting the race away. The only question now was whether she would break Catherine Ndereba’s Kenyan record of 2:18:47 set at the 2001 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
“I thought I would plan about 2:20, maybe 2:19,” Keitany said. “After, when I run 2:18 I was happy because for so long Catherine Ndereba holding the Kenyan record.”
Kiplagat held second place to finish in 2:19:50, a personal best by nearly a minute, and Jeptoo was a clear third in 2:20:14, also a career best time.
“Of course I am happy for the victory I got today,” Keitany said.
It is almost a certainty that Keitany will gain selection for the Kenyan team, as should Kiplagat. Jeptoo, last summer’s world championships silver medalist, has a chance for selection, but officials might pick fourth place Florence Kiplagat (2:20:57) because she ran 2:19:44 to win Berlin last September. Athletics Kenya officials have said they will make their final decision at the end of the month.
Behind the women’s leaders, a different drama was playing out in the race for the third and final spot on the British Olympic team. Claire Hallissey pulled away from debutante Freya Murray, managed to hold the gap, then finished 11th overall in a career best 2:27:44, comfortably under Jo Pavey’s 2:28:24 from this race last year. Pavey was the provisional holder of the third team spot, but Hallissey’s performance here will almost certainly mean that UK Athletics selectors will pick her over Pavey. The British Olympic Association will make an announcement sometime on Monday.
“It went pretty much exactly according to plan,” the self-coached Hallissey told Race Results Weekly. “I didn’t look behind me during the race at all, but I was kind of aware that Freya was there somewhere; I just didn’t know how close. It wasn’t until those very final meters that I knew that I was going to cross the line as the first Brit.”
KIPSANG BREAKS MEN’S RACE OPEN EARLY
While the women were slightly tentative from the start, the men’s race heated up early, and broke apart at only the halfway point. Led by Kenyan pacemakers Shadrack Kosgei and Philip Langat, 13 contenders zipped through 5K in 14:36, a 2:03:13 pace. The fast pace did little to winnow the field which hit 10K in 29:34, 15K in 44:30 and 20K in 59:13. Besides Kipsang, most of the key contenders were there: Kenyans Emmanuel Mutai (defending champion), Abel Kirui (reigning world champion), Martin Lel (three-time London champion), and Vincent Kipruto; and Ethiopians Feyisa Lelisa (reigning world championships bronze medalist), Abreham Cherkos, and Worku Bazu. Already missing, however, was world-record holder Patrick Makau who dropped out at 10 miles with a leg problem.
After crossing the 20K mark on Tower Bridge, Kipsang decided that the pace wasn’t fast enough. Pushing past the pacers, he surged and broke up the race.
“I was trying to set the pace for the pacers,” Kipsang joked after the race.
Running the 13th mile in a very fast 4:36, Kipsang hit halfway in 1:02:12 and only Worku, Lilesa, Eritrea’s Samuel Tsegay, Kirui, Lel and Mutai could remain close. To show how serious he was, Kipsang kept up the pressure, running 14:09 from 20 to 25 kilometers. That dropped everybody but Lelisa and Kirui.
“From the start I was just having the feeling that I was strong,” Kipsang recalled. “But I could not really know about the other guys.”
It seemed that the podium had been already determined with more than 50 minutes of running to go. Lel, Worku, Mutai (who later revealed he was having stomach problems), and Tesgay were 15 seconds back. But the pace slackened enough between 25 and 30K (14:42) for Mutai and Lel to nearly catch up, and although Kipsang held steady from 30 to 35K, the others were too exhausted to continue at that clip.
“As we continued racing, I was saying that I was confident of myself, and that the other guys were not in a position to handle the pace,” Kipsang said.
It was all over minus the shouting. Kipsang ran away from the field right on course record pace. Coming past Buckingham Palace and into the final 200 meters on The Mall, he sprinted to the line, but fell four seconds short of Mutai’s course record. Nonetheless, he ran the second fastest time ever here, and made a strong case for Olympic selection supported by his 2:03:42 at Frankfurt last year.
“For me, I have done my part,” Kipsang said.
Behind Kipsang, both Kirui and Lilesa were struggling. Although they were running second and third, respectively, at 40K, they would both crumple to finish sixth (Kirui) and tenth (Lilesa). Lel and Tsegaye came steaming past them, setting up a flat-out sprint for second. Lel made the final turn before home a stride behind the much smaller Kebede, but managed to overtake him for second in 2:06:51, the same position he finished here last year. Kebede was timed in 2:06:52. Coming from the second pack, Morocco’s Adil Annani got fourth in 2:07:43 (a big personal best), and his nearly 40 year-old countryman Jaouad Gharib got fifth in 2:07:44.
The consensus in the press room amongst reporters and athlete managers was that Kipsang would be selected for the Kenyan team, but that it was anybody’s guess whom the Athletics Kenya selectors would pick for the other two spots. Martin Lel was told prior to the race that he was not on the short list of candidates, and the 2008 Olympian seemed at peace with that.
“These are the younger generation who came up and qualified by the time,” said the 33-year-old Lel who only did one month of dedicated preparation for this race after dropping out of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon last January. “For me, there is no pressure.”