Eliud Kipchoge continues to defy the notion that runners only have a finite number of good marathons in their legs as he extended his record at the distance to 10 wins from 11 starts at the Virgin Money London Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (22).
Kipchoge completed another Kenyan double in the British capital as Vivian Cheruiyot ran an excellently judged race to claim her first World Marathon Majors wins as defending champion Mary Keitany from Kenya and Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba both faltered in their bid to break Paula Radcliffe’s long-standing world record of 2:15:25 on a warm morning in the British capital.
Three distinct groups formed in the first three miles of the women’s race with Dibaba and Keitany at the helm, running side-by-side behind a trio of male pacemakers who were reintroduced into the women’s race for the first time since Radcliffe’s record-breaking run in 2003.
Keitany and Dibaba, who were sportingly sharing drinks in the opening segment, were ahead of Radcliffe’s schedule through five kilometres in 15:46 and 10 kilometres in 31:46. At this point, Cheruiyot was part of the third group who were themselves still on sub-2:20 pace in 32:53.
Dibaba was second to Keitany last year but the Chicago Marathon winner, who was contesting the fourth marathon of her career, began to lose touch with Keitany – and the three pacemakers – in the ninth mile, the result of a preceding eighth mile of 4:57.
But Dibaba still had Keitany in her sights on Tower Bridge. The leader reached the 20-kilometre checkpoint in 1:03:50 with Dibaba only 15 seconds in arrears while Cheruiyot was making good progress, moving up to third in 1:05:31 alongside compatriots Gladys Cherono and Brigid Kosgei.
After reaching halfway in 1:06:54 last year, Keitany passed through the corresponding point still inside world record pace at 1:07:16. But, unlike 12 months ago when her sole pacemaker Caroline Chepkoech peeled off the course just beyond Tower Bridge, Keitany still had two pacemakers for assistance.
But the first clear-cut sign the record was ebbing away – and Keitany was in trouble – came in the 15th mile in 5:30. Having been no more than a stride behind the pacemakers in the first half, the three-time champion was now struggling to stay in contact with them.
While Keitany was beginning to slow, Dibaba came to a halt altogether in the 19th mile after she was passed by Cheruiyot and Kosgei who then had the leader in their sights. Dibaba, who momentarily stopped in last year’s race, plaintively tried to rally again before dropping out.
Keitany still had a cushion of 1:16 at the 30-kilometre checkpoint in 1:37:03 but the gap to the pursuers was closing with every mile: 5:30 for mile 19, 5:27 for mile 20 and then 5:42 for mile 21.
Keitany’s next mile was a ponderous 5:50 and she had no response when Cheruiyot breezed past with a 22nd mile of 5:16. Cheruiyot’s one-minute plus deficit at the 30-kilometre checkpoint in 1:38:19 was now a 1:22 lead at the 40-kilometre checkpoint in 2:11:08.
Cheruiyot said she was chastened by her debut last year when she paid the price for an over-exuberant first half but the 34-year-old duly learned from that experience, running consistent splits of 1:08:56 and 1:09:34 to cross the finish-line on The Mall in 2:18:31, moving to fourth on the world all-time list still headed by Radcliffe’s mark from 15 years ago.
Contesting her third marathon in a little over six months, Kosgei – who has run well in warm conditions in the past with two Honolulu Marathon titles to her credit – whittled her lifetime best down to 2:20:13 to ensure a Kenyan one-two in the elite women’s race.
Ethiopia’s Tadelech Bekele, who was sixth at halfway in 1:09:47, was also rewarded with a 2:21:40 PB in third while Keitany hit the proverbial wall, shuffling across the finish-line in fifth in 2:24:27 in her bid to break one of the most redoubtable records on the books.
KIPCHOGE COMPLETES LONDON MARATHON HAT-TRICK
Eyebrows were raised when it was announced at the technical meeting last night the pacemakers were assigned the task of reaching the halfway point in 1:01:00 – considerably faster than world record pace in one of the warmest editions in London Marathon race history.
The early splits – 13:48 at five kilometres and 28:19 at 10 kilometres – had suggested a finishing time well inside two hours, but the pace soon settled and the pacemakers hit their target by passing through halfway in exactly 1:01:00 with seven runners still within three seconds of the lead.
Kipchoge, the two-time champion and course record-holder, was always towards the front of the lead group with his eyes fixed firmly on the pacemakers’ shoulder blades.
Even though none of the podium finishers expressed any palpable displeasure with the race day conditions, the world record was always an unlikely aspiration on a day when the temperatures rose to above 20C and the leading group remained largely intact as the pace dropped through the 25km checkpoint in 1:12:36.
But by 30 kilometres in 1:27:24 with Kipchoge still leading proceedings, defending champion Daniel Wanjiru had lost 49 seconds while Kenenisa Bekele, who was second to Wanjiru last year, was back in seventh and more than a minute behind Kipchoge – nearly always his lesser back in their track days.
Bekele’s little-known teammate Shura Kitata, 21, was excelling on his World Marathon Majors debut, tracking Kipchoge doggedly while Mo Farah was also surpassing expectations in his second marathon, although he was beginning to lose touch with Kipchoge at the 30-kilometre mark.
It was in the 24th mile, covered in 4:44, that Kipchoge finally broke Kitata and a smile began to show as he crested the rise out of the tunnel on to the Embankment. “At some points I was a little bit worried,” said Kipchoge, acknowledging the resolve showed by his Ethiopian rival. “But I had to fight in the last kilometres.”
Kitata by no means wilted – and he was still on course for a big lifetime best – in the closing stages but Kipchoge was able to soak in the applause of the large crowds lining the streets of Westminster and St James’ Park. He looked serene as he crossed the finish-line in 2:04:17 to secure his third win in race history.
“I can say I enjoyed the race. I enjoyed the race very much,” said Kipchoge. “I still enjoyed the win, and I’m happy to be able to win for the third time in London.”
Kipchoge said he has aspirations of extending his career through until the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo where he will defend his title, and another attempt on Dennis Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57 remains on the agenda. “Where I come from in Kenya, we say, ‘just unwrap it’,” he said when asked about the world record. “So after London, now I plan where to go.”
Kitata, who is coached by Haji Adilo, excelled on his World Marathon Majors debut, finishing second in a lifetime best of 2:04:49. Kitata has already contested nine marathons in his career, finishing on the podium on eight occasions.
Now retired from the track, Farah crossed the finish-line exhausted but with a third-place finish in a British record of 2:06:21, taking some excellent scalps in the process: two-time world champion Abel Kirui in fourth (2:07:07), Bekele in sixth (2:08:53) and Wanjiru in eighth (2:10:35).
Steven Mills for the IAAF