breaks own marathon World best to defeat Tergat and Gebrselassie
Steven Downes for IAAF
14 April - London - Khalid Khannouchi, of the United States, needed to break his own world best at the Flora London Marathon here on Sunday just to beat the greatest field of marathon runners ever assembled, clocking 2hr 5min 38sec.The organisers had claimed it was the "World's Greatest Race". If anything, they could be accused of classic British understatement, as the 22nd running of the London delivered probably the greatest display of distance running ever seen, and all in front of some 32,000 in the mass event.
The race organisers spent $3 million on assembling the elite field, and they certainly got what they paid for. As well as Khannouchi bettering his Chicago 1999 world best by 4sec, Britain's heroine Paula Radcliffe also ran a world best for a women's only race, 2:18:56.
But while Radcliffe's marathon debut was a solo effort, Khannouchi had a real foot race to win, which was not settled until the last mile. Dogging his footsteps for 25 of the 26 miles 385 yards were two of the finest distance runners in the world. Paul Tergat, of Kenya, placed second - for
the third time in his three marathons starts - to become the second-fastest marathon runner in history with 2:05:48, while Haile Gebrselassie, the four-time IAAF world champion at 10,000m, clocked the fastest time in a debut marathon, 2:06:35.
Fourth place went to last year's London victor, Abdelkader El Mouaziz, of Morocco, in 2:06:52, a personal best.
"That was very tough," said 30-year-old Khannouchi, the Morocco-born athlete who became an American citizen in 2000.
"The quality of the field here today meant that I had to work really hard to win. I said before that if we had the opportunity for good weather and good competition, we had a chance to break the record. And today, everything was perfect."
As good as his word in the pre-race hype, Ethiopia's Gebrselassie set off at better than world record pace, clicking past the mile markers in steady 4:45sec miling to reach the halfway point bang on the requested 1hr 02min 42sec.
But, contrary to their own midweek predictions, more experienced marathoners such as Antonio Pinto, Tergat, El Mouaziz and Khannouchi clearly determined that they had no choice but to stay close to the man widely acknowledged to be the world's greatest distance runner. It set up a magnificent contest.
Once the official pacemakers stepped off the road after the half-distance, it seemed that the leaders began to check out each other, some degree of caution setting in. El Mouaziz, as he had done in the IAAF World Championships in Edmonton last year, took on the pace-setting responsibilities, though he also weaved across the course at times, inviting Gebrselassie to take on the front-running duties.
Gebrselassie, the man who has broken 15 world records on the track, has made his career out of an ability to sit, wait and kick in the closing stages of big races (as Tergat, a runner-up to the Ethiopian in two world championships and two Olympic 10,000m, knows only too well). Here, on his debut over 42.2km, he was being expected to lead for long sections, and this may not have suited him.
Still the 4:45 miles clicked past, bringing the leaders to 20 miles in 1:34:48, and one-by-one, the leading pack was whittled away - Britain's Mark Steinle, three-time London winner Pinto, Gebrselassie's team mate Tesfaye Jifar, and European champion Stefano Baldini each gradually losing contact.
And then there were three. As Khannouchi, Gebrselassie and Tergat headed along the Victoria Embankment, the River Thames to their left, they could hear the chimes of Big Ben as they had been racing for two hours. The bells tolled for Gebrselassie's hopes of victory.
The little Ethiopian, the IAAF World champion at half-marathon, went to a grab a drink just after 24 miles, looked up and saw a five-metre gap opened to his rivals. The magic thread that had bound the three runners together for so long was decisively broken.
Khannouchi now went to the front determinedly, pushing the pace into the final mile, still bouncing off the balls of his feet, as the elegant Tergat loped half-a-stride behind him. As the American pushed hard on the road towards Buckingham Palace, and the final corner on the course, the Kenyan was broken, the race won. Now, it was a matter of whether Khannouchi could better his own best.
Seeming full of running, Khannouchi bounded through the finishing tape, to erase his unhappy memories of his DNF in Edmonton last year, and claim $255,000 in prize money and time bonuses, the biggest pay-day of his career.
Men: Sub 2:10
1. Khalid Khannouchi (U.S.) 2:05:38 (world best)
2. Paul Tergat (Kenya) 2:05:48
3. Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) 2:06:35
4. Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco) 2:06:52
5. Ian Syster (South Africa) 2:07:06
6. Stefano Baldini (Italy) 2:07:29
7. Antonio Pinto (Portugal) 2:09:10
8. Mark Steinle (Britain) 2:09:17
9. Tesfaye Jifar (Ethiopia) 2:09:50