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2004 race report

Men’s race
Women’s race
Men’s wheelchair race
Women’s wheelchair race

The men’s race

Rutto cruises home
For the first time ever there was a Kenyan double in the London Marathon with Evans Rutto an impressive winner of the men’s race and Margaret Okayo decisively taking the women’s event.

Rutto cruised to victory in 2:06:18, the second fastest time in the world in 2004. Quick as it was, however, the time hardly did the Kenyan credit for the weather conditions, with a blustery wind and wet roads, were very difficult. Indeed, Rutto took a slithering fall on the rain-swept roadway by the Tower of London along with several other athletes. “If the weather had been better and I had not fallen, well, I’m not saying that I could have broken the world record, but it’s possible”, said Rutto later.

There were some top drawer athletes in the men’s race, including Morocco’s world champion Jaouad Gharib, the Olympic champion Gezahegne Abera and Kenya’s Sammy Korir, who had become the second fastest marathon runner ever when he paced Paul Tergat to a world record of 2:04:55 in Berlin, and then hung on to his compatriot’s coat-tails to finish just a second behind. Nevertheless, the inexperienced Rutto was generally considered the race favourite due to his performance in Chicago the previous October, a race he won in 2:05:50, a record for a debut marathon.

The drama came early when Abera withdrew as the lead pack approached the 6 mile mark. The reigning champion, who had been carrying an Achilles injury to his left leg, dropped out and stood abjectly by the roadside. His defection left 18 runners in the pack and, until the halfway mark that number was slowly whittled down.

Only in the second half did Rutto firmly put his imprint on the race, and the pace increased considerably. The fastest mile was the 17th – unusually late for London which has such a fast start – and by that stage only three athletes were in contention, Rutto, Korir and Gharib.

Rutto was pouring on the pace now and Gharib soon fell away. Korir was also under pressure as the two Kenyans turned on to the pathway by the Tower of London. It was on the turn that Rutto fell, sliding so far that he took Korir with him as well. The time lost while they regained their feet and composure made it the slowest mile of the race, 5:09.

The rest belonged to Rutto. The 26 year old had no trouble at all detaching himself from Korir, and came home 30 seconds clear. It was an exceptional show of distance running, although the Kenyan officials believed they could do without Rutto in Athens and he was not selected for their Olympic team.

Korir stayed on for 2nd place in 2:06:48, while Gharib was 3rd in 2:07:02. The Moroccan had only just recovered from a bout of bronchitis and, like the Kenyans, also fell.

The first British runner home was Jon Brown, who finished 15th in 2:13:39, just 14 seconds ahead of the second Briton Dan Robinson. Both athletes achieved the Olympic qualifying time, and therefore earned selection for the Games.

The women’s race

Okayo completes Kenyan double
The women’s race was run in three stages. The first belonged to Kenya’s Margaret Okayo, the second to Romania’s Constantina Tomescu-Dita, and the third to Okayo again.

The Kenyan let loose early. In the 3rd mile, with the wind assisting more than hampering, she ran the first and only sub-5 minute mile and was away and gone. In the next 2 miles, with the pace only fractions slower, the diminutive Okayo extended her lead. It seemed that the pattern of the last 2 years – one runner dominant throughout – was about to be repeated.

But after 3 more miles Okayo’s action changed, just marginally. As her upper body rolled slightly, and her pace slowed, it was clear the Kenyan was not about to emulate Paula Radcliffe. Rather, she was struggling to stay in front and Tomescu-Dita was now eating into her lead.

There could be no greater contrast in styles than between these two athletes. Okayo, who stands 5 foot tall in her running shoes, has a beautifully balanced leg action and almost tiptoes through her races. If she was running up stairs, you wouldn’t hear her. You would hear Tomescu-Dita, however – with her long stride and arms wide-swinging, she’s about power rather than precision.

So, when Tomescu-Dita overtook Okayo in the 11th mile, it was such an emphatic dismissal, and the rest of the field was so distant, that race director Dave Bedford must have been brushing up on his Romanian for the presentation. It was not all it seemed, however.

First, Okayo is not an athlete prone to self-doubt. In her last 3 marathons the 27 year old Kenyan had broken 3 course records, most recently in New York in November 2003. Secondly, Tomescu-Dita makes a habit of leading major marathons without ever winning, notably in the World Championship marathons at Edmonton and Paris. In Canada, her lead was over 2 minutes before she fell apart. You couldn’t help but feel sympathy as the same story unfolded here.

Although the Romanian’s lead stretched to over 100m at one point, Okayo never completely lost touch. The Kenyan sensibly took her time to get her rhythm back and started to erode the lead. For a while it was a matter of two steps forward and one step back – as the lead contracted then extended. Not until the 20th mile were all the steps going forward. Coming into the tunnel that takes the runners out of London’s Docklands, Okayo drew alongside Tomescu-Dita and swept past. It was over.

All that mattered now was the clock. Having belted out the first 5 miles in 25:51, an average of 5:10, Okayo now reined in the pace and each of her last 6 miles was outside 5:30. Her finishing time was 2:22:35, the fastest time in the world that year, although it didn’t compare with Radcliffe’s feats in the past two London Marathons.

“I can’t say I’ll beat Radcliffe in the Olympics, but I’ll try”, said Okayo who, like Rutto, thought the weather militated against a faster time.

Poor Tomescu-Dita couldn’t even hang on to 2nd, as Russia’s Lyudmila Petrova picked her off to take the runner-up spot in 2:26:02, over 3.5 minutes behind Okayo. The Romanian finished another 50 seconds behind.

Of the other contenders, Ethiopia’s Gete Wami pulled out with hamstring problems and China’s Sun Yingjie was a slightly disappointing seventh in 2:28:32. Joyce Chepchumba, who had also not been picked by Kenya for the Athens Olympic team, placed 5th in 2:28:01 to register her 18th successive sub-2:30 marathon. A remarkable statistic.

In Radcliffe’s absence, the first British woman home was Tracey Morris, who placed 10th in an Olympic qualifying time of 2:33:52. Morris, a contact lens technician from Leeds, was running in only her 2nd marathon and knocked more than an hour from her previous time.

The men’s wheelchair race

Mendoza defies the rain
Saul Mendoza marked his first appearance in the London Wheelchair Marathon with one of the easiest victories in the history of the race. The Mexican ‘athlete of the 20th century’ added to his record of more than 200 wheelchair victories by winning in 1:36:56, almost 6 minutes clear of David Weir, defying the very wet and unfavourable conditions.

Another London debutant, Frenchman Alain Fuss, was 3rd in 1:45:25, while Tushar Patel, the popular and always smiling British athlete, suffered a puncture at 21 miles when in 3rd place. Canadian Jeff Adams completed the first six finishers, but some 30 minutes outside his best time in 1:59:07.

The women’s wheelchair race

Porcellato retains her crown
Italy’s Francesca Porcellato retained the title in 2:04:58, only a few seconds slower than in 2003 despite the wet conditions.

The ever-improving British athlete Paula Craig was second in 2:07:52 saying afterwards she was “really chuffed” to beat pre-race favourite Gunilla Wallengren of Sweden who performed below par in 2:14:13.