Sensational London debut for Wilson Kipsang (© Getty Images)
London, UKFor the second year in a row it was two brilliant Kenyans who took the Virgin London Marathon titles as Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany destroyed two of the finest fields ever assembled to win by impressive margins and surely secure their places on Kenya’s Olympic team.
Kipsang missed Emmanuel Mutai’s course record on his London debut by just four seconds while Keitany became the quickest African of all time as she retained her women’s crown at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race with a repeat of her sparkling solo win from 12 months’ ago.
Kipsang came to London as the second fastest man in history and he stamped his authority on a heavily loaded field with two bold surges in the second half of the race. Breaking free at 20 miles, he crossed the line more than two minutes clear in 2:04:44 followed by Martin Lel, the three-times London champion repeating his second place from 2011.
“I knew when I went away they would have to work very, very hard to beat me as I was feeling so good in myself,” said Kipsang.
“I am so sorry I didn’t ditch the record but winning is the most important thing for me. I feel little tired now, but I am happy and tired.”
Lel finished in 2:06:51 winning a sprint finish by a second from Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede.
As for Mutai he was seventh in 2:08:01, his worse finish in five London appearances, perhaps more affected than he’d expected by the bout of typhoid he suffered a month ago.
Abel Kirui was a place ahead of him. Second at 40km, the World champion again faded in the closing stages and crossed the line in 2:07:56.
It was a bad day for the World record holder Patrick Makau, too. He dropped out at 10 miles with a hamstring injury, adding another twist to the Kenyan Olympic selection drama.
Keitany’s successful defence leads Kenyan 1-5 finish in women’s race
While Kipsang led a Kenyan one-two in the men’s race, Keitany spearheaded a medal sweep in the women’s – a first for women in London. Indeed, Kenyans filled the first five places, with World champion Edna Kiplagat second and Priscah Jeptoo third ahead of Florence Kiplagat and Lucy Kabuu.
Just as she did last year, Keitany made the most of perfect conditions to kick away from a clutch of highly talented rivals in the last four miles before powering home in 2:18:37, making her the third quickest woman of all time and consigning Catherine Ndereba’s Kenyan record to the history books.
“The time was OK,” she said. “The weather here all week has not been good but when I saw the sunshine this morning I knew it would be all right for me.
“I’m so delighted to win for the second time in London. We worked together until 35km and then I felt good so I decided to make a break. I was tired but I knew I could finish strongly.
“I knew I could run 2:18 but to break Catherine’s national record is special for me.”
Kiplagat challenged the champion until 23 miles and maintained her form over the closing miles to record her first sub-2:20 time. She crossed the line in 2:19:50, a personal best by nearly a minute.
There was a PB for Jeptoo too, the world silver medalist running 2:20:14, more than two and half minutes inside her previous best.
Kipsang: ‘Now I think I will be the Olympic favourite’ - Men’s race
After a week worrying about cold temperatures and lashing rain, race day conditions could hardly have been better. Pacemakers Shadrack Kosgei and Philip Langat led the leaders away into under cool, cloudless skies, light winds barely disturbing the roadside flags.
A pack of 13 settled in behind them, including Mutai and his five Kenyan colleagues, rivals for the most fiercely contested Olympic places in any sport.
They set off at a pelt, going through the first mile in 4:41, 10 seconds quicker than 12 months ago when Mutai set the course record. The field was already stretched with Kirui alongside Mutai and Kipsang, while Makau was just a stride or two behind.
A pack of 11 reached 5km in 14:37 – the perfect set-up to attack the World mark of 2:03:38 – and 10km in 29:36. Among the phalanx of Kenyans were the leading Ethiopians, Feyisa Lilesa, Kebede and Bazu Worku.
With a quarter of the race gone, and the swift early miles over, they settled into a sub-5 minute mile pace – apparently not quick enough for Makau who drifted up to the front to offer some advice to the pacemakers. Mutai also seemed impatient, running close to the pacers heels and urging them on through southeast London towards Tower Bridge and the half way mark.
Perhaps Makau was kidding himself for as Kipsang moved to the front for the first time it was he who dropped back. Within a mile he had stepped to the side and out of the race.
Kipsang’s move was decisive. He sped through half way in 1:02:12 with Lilesa on his tail, Worku 10 metres back and the rest suddenly floundering in the wake of his surge.
With half the race to go, this briefly looked like a two-man race – Kenya versus Ethiopia. But Kirui wasn’t content to let it go. The World champion was forced to drop out last year, but this time he clawed himself back into contention and the three sped through 25km in 1:13:22.
Mutai’s course record was now in threat, and Makau’s World mark came back into view. Only Kipsang had been close to this pace before but it was Kirui who pushed on, leading the trio around the Isle of Dogs and past Canary Wharf.
They clocked 1:28:04 at 30km, only 16 seconds outside World record pace. But Kipsang was comfortable. He made his break before 33km and quickly opened a gap. The last quarter of the race would be his alone – the only question now being whether he could maintain the pace.
The answer came over the closing miles. With two race-winning bursts in his legs, Kipsang began to slow, his stride shortening slightly as he headed east past the Tower of London and on to the Embankment for the long lone run to the line.
But today wasn’t really about times. With Olympic selection on the line, it was a case of beating the rest and Kipsang did that by more than two minutes.
“My confidence grew in the race as I saw the others were not able to handle the pace,” he said. “I was trying to set the pace with the pacemakers. I wanted it to be faster.
“For me, I feel I’ve done my part, now selection is up to the officials. They said they will decide after the London Marathon so I think it will come. Now I think I will be the Olympic favourite.”
Keitany undaunted - Women’s race
Race director Dave Bedford called it the best women’s field ever seen, and with four sub-2:20 runners in the line-up, and 13 under 2:23, few could doubt it was the greatest collection of talent which left Blackheath bang on 9am, set on their way by former British Olympian Dorothy Tyler.
Fittingly, perhaps, it was Britons Liz Yelling and Claire Hallissey who were the first to show alongside the pacers, with Mikitenko tucked in behind. It was a steady start (5:37 for the first mile), a little slower than the leaders had requested, although that was sure to change.
By mile two the field began to sort itself out as the leading dozen or so opened a gap on the second group. Eleven women reached 5km in a 16:50 – already on for a sub-2:22 finish – and by mile five the race was an all-African affair as Mikitenko and Romania’s Olympic champion Constantina Dita slipped behind.
By 10km (33:36) the leaders counted nine with Keitany comfortable in the pack. Less comfortable was Ejegayehu Dibaba. The Ethiopian, who finished second in Chicago last year, had been a doubtful starter with a foot injury and she soon dropped out.
The pace began to rise after 10 women clipped through 15km in 50:27, crossed Tower Bridge at 20km in 67:13, and half way in 1:10:53, about a minute outside the predicted pace.
With huge crowds lining the route through the Isle of Dogs, the leaders pushed on, clocking a fast 18th mile of 5:07 to cut the numbers to six, only Ethiopia’s Aberu Kebede able to stay with the quintet of Kenyans.
By the time they’d passed 30km (in 1:39:52) and twisted under Canary Wharf it had become an all-Kenyan affair – five women chasing three Olympic places. It soon became four as Keitany led the Kiplagats and Jeptoo clear of Kabuu.
They reached 35km in 1:56:01, the tempo set for sub-2:20 finish. The race now became a duel in the sun between Keitany and Kiplagat – the defending champion versus the World champion.
Just as she did 12 months ago, Keitany threw down the gauntlet with 5:07 and 4:59 miles to open an unassailable lead. Kiplagat strained to stay in touch but the champion was away and gone. A 10-metre lead rapidly became 20, then more.
Full of running, Keitany strode out along the Embankment and passed 40km in 2:11:47, her form never faltering as she approached the sharp turn into Parliament Square, and swept on past Buckingham Palace to the finish line in The Mall. Her last two full miles clicked by in 5:02 and 5:03 to complete a second half of 1:07:44 making this one of the quickest Marathon finishes ever seen.
Mikitenko was the first European home in seventh while there was good news for Britain as Claire Hallissey made the strongest possible bid for Olympic selection, finishing 11th in a personal best of 2:27:44, 40 seconds inside the target time set by Jo Pavey last year.
Mikitenko was followed home by Jessica Augusto, the Portuguese star just outside her best in 2:24:59, while Scot Freya Murray was just a stride or two behind Hallissey, clocking an impressive 2:28:04 on her debut.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF