Priscah Jeptoo and Tsegaye Kebede are the newly crowned champions.
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
LONDON — Denied the chance to compete in the Olympic Marathon here last August, Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede got a well-deserved victory on the Mall Sunday at the 33rd Virgin London Marathon in a come-from-behind effort. In the women’s contest, Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo ended up a runaway winner in a race which was marred by a fluid station accident which ended Olympic champion Tiki Gelana’s chances for victory after she fell hard and was knocked out of contention. Just over 35,000 runners started today’s race.
Torrid Men’s Pace Took Its Toll
With ideal conditions on Sunday morning –bright sun accompanied by cool temperatures– organizers had their eyes on a new world record in the men’s race. Athletes knew that the early pace would be fast, but when the two-mile mark was hit in 9:22 and 5K in 14:22 (on schedule for a 2:01:15 finish time) athletes realized that the pace was simply too fast.
“I was thinking, are they going to keep this pace going on?” double Olympic champion Mo Farah told the BBC after the race.
Nonetheless, all of the top athletes followed the pace, except world-record holder Patrick Makau of Kenya, who held back and was never a factor (he finished 11th in 2:14:10). As Kenyan pacer Mike Kigen pounded out the kilometers at a sub-three minute clip, pre-race favorites Wilson Kipsang, Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai, Feyisa Lilesa, Stanley Biwott, and others stayed close to Kigen.
The field got to 10K in 28:56, a 2:02-flat pace. Like being on a thrill ride at an amusement park, runners were just holding on, trying not to let the race get away from them. Kebede ran a few steps behind the pacers, as did defending champion Kipsang, Boston Marathon record holder Geoffrey Mutai, and the other contenders. Ten men were still in the lead pack at 20K, including Farah, who then decided to drop out before the halfway mark on the north side of Tower Bridge. Farah, who will make his marathon debut here next year, was impressed with what he experienced in the race.
“It was incredible,” Farah told the BBC just after dropping out. “The support, people coming out for me.”
Farah said that his biggest difficulty was handling his personal drinks. He said he missed one and had to stop and go back and pick it up.
“The bigger challenge is picking up the drinks and getting the right drinks,” Farah admitted. “I really made a mess of it. It’s one of the biggest lessons of my life, really.”
Kebede faced a different, and more serious problem. Pacemaker Kigen went through halfway in a blistering 1:01:34, and 25K in 1:12:58, running the 5 kilometers from 20 to 30K in 14:30. Shortly after that, four men got away from the rest of the field: Kenyans Emmanuel Mutai and Stanley Biwott and Ethiopians Feyisa Lilesa and Ayele Abshero. Kebede found himself 19 seconds behind the leaders by the time he crossed the 30K mark. However, his confidence was actually on the upswing.
“I had a little pain in my side during the early part of the race, but as time went on it got better and better,” Kebede said.
But the race was far from over. At about the 33K mark, Biwott put in a strong surge, and quickly opened up a big gap on the other three men. Only Mutai managed to keep Biwott in sight, and realized that if he remained patient, his compatriot may come back to him.
In the 37th kilometer (23rd mile), Mutai not only caught Biwott, but blew by him, instantly creating a big gap. Biwott who had already begun to shuffle, finished eighth. At 40K (25 miles), Mutai had a seemingly insurmountable 28-second lead.
But the Kenyan was tiring, and his pace had slowed. Kebede began to draw closer and closer, and with the race clock showing 2:03:02 he passed Mutai, who could not respond.
“I thought I might win today, but could not pick up the pace in the late stages,” Mutai said, complaining about hip and thigh pain.
Kebede, who would run the second half in a pedestrian 64:28, was able to enjoy the grand finish on The Mall alone, cruising to the finish in 2:06:04, the slowest winning time here in six years. It was Kebede’s second win here; he also won in 2010.
“He’s the most patient, savviest marathon runner in the world,” said Bank of America Chicago Marathon executive race director Carey Pinkowski, who had predicted that Kebede, the winner of his race last October, would also prevail here.
Mutai would finish second in 2:06:33, and Abshero third in 2:06:57. Defending champion Kipsang, who lost a toenail during the race, came home fifth and Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda finished sixth; he had stayed behind the lead pack for most of the race.
Jeptoo Romps In Women’s Race
The two pacemakers in the women’s race, Kenya’s Valentine Kipketer and Helah Kiprop, went hard from the gun, but the contenders chose not to follow them. By the 10K mark the pacers were well up the road, leaving a pack of nine contenders: Kenya’s Jeptoo, Florence Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat, and Joyce Chepkirui; Japan’s Mai Ito and Yukiko Akaba; and Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, Meselech Melkamu and Atsede Baysa. Their pace was reasonable, on schedule for a 2:24:15 marathon.
Five kilometers later, disaster struck. The men’s wheelchair race caught up to the elite women, and at the 15K fluid station Gelana moved to her left to pick up her bottle and got her left leg under the right wheel of Josh Cassidy’s wheelchair. Gelana’s foot was pinned, and she crashed face first to the pavement. Behind her, Edna Kiplagat was clipped by another wheelchair racer (Heinz Frei), stumbled (but did not fall) and was forced to stop.
“The wheelchair guy hit my left leg,” Kiplagat explained. “I saw Tiki. She was going for water but didn’t see him. When she turned back… she fell down.”
Gelana quickly regained her feet then sprinted to catch up with the field. She managed to remain with the leaders through halfway (1:11:49), but past the 25K mark she started to fade, and quickly went out of contention. Cassidy was upset by the incident.
“We overtook them going 20 miles per hour,” Cassidy told the BBC, adding that that both of his wheels –costing $1000 each– had been damaged. “The most safe thing is to have the wheelchairs start first without the overtake.”
Soon, the race then came down to four: the two Kiplagat’s, Jeptoo and Melkamu. Edna Kiplagat, the reigning world champion, and Jeptoo, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, upped the pace, running 16:04 from 25 to 30K. That was too hot for Florence Kiplagat and Melkamu, and it quickly became a two-woman contest.
“I had some feeling that I could do it,” Jeptoo told reporters after the race.
Jeptoo, who runs with an unusual knock-kneed style, kept pressing the pace, and soon Kiplagat had to let go. Jeptoo had a 17-second lead by 35K, and by the time she hit the finish line in 2:20:15 she had built a final gap of 1:17 over Kiplagat, four seconds better than Mary Keitany’s runaway victory last year. Missing her personal best time by just one second, she immediately fell to her knees, pressed her hands together, looked to the sky and offered a prayer.
“I knew this morning that I was going to run well and there was such a good field you were always worried someone would do better,” Jeptoo said. “It wasn’t until around 25 miles that I got that confidence back and felt I would win.”
Surprisingly, Japan’s Akaba finished third in 2:24:43, the first Japanese woman to reach the podium in London. Baysa and Melkamu finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in 2:25:14 and 2:25:46, respectively. The top home country athlete was Scotland’s Susan Partridge who clocked a personal best 2:30:46 and qualified for the British team for the IAAF World Championships in August by running sub-2:31.
Kebede, Jeptoo Lead Marathon Majors Chase
With their victories here on Sunday, Kebede and Jeptoo now top the points table for the 2012/2013 World Marathon Majors championships. Kebede has 60 points to second place Wilson Kipsang (36) and Kenya’s Wesley Korir (27). Jeptoo has 50 points to lead Boston Marathon winner Rita Jeptoo (40) and 2012 Boston Marathon champion Sharon Cherop (35). The series resumes with the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in August.