The men’s race
Kebede ends Kenya’s domination
Tsegaye Kebede turned silver to gold as the 2009 runner-up triumphed to take the men’s title in 2:05:19, just nine seconds outside the one-year-old course record. Kebede, an Olympic and world bronze medallist, took his victory in style, crossing the line with more than a minute to spare to become the first non-Kenyan winner since his fellow Ethiopian Gezahegne Abera in 2003.
“I was second last year, so it is good to win this time,” said Kebede. “I thought I could get the course record but the rain made it difficult.”
Kenya’s world silver medallist Emmanuel Mutai had to be satisfied with second again, in 2:06:23, while the evergreen Moroccan Jaouad Gharib was third for the second year in a row in 2:06:55.
After a storming victory in Fukuoka in December 2009, Kebede’s win was hardly a surprise. Indeed, defending champion Sammy Wanjiru had said just two days before the race that if he didn’t retain the title Kebede was the man to watch.
In the event, Wanjiru provided the day’s big shock when he dropped out at 27km. The Olympic champion had won four out of five marathons and never finished lower than second. But he was forced to pull out around mile 17 with a sore right knee.
Wanjiru was one of four talented Kenyans who set off in cool light rain, running the fast opening miles behind three pacemakers, John Kales, Moses Arusei and Titus Masai. They’d been asked to run to 20 miles at 2:04 pace and, at first, hit their stride perfectly, passing 5km in 14:39.
They soon slipped behind schedule, however, and passed half way in 63:06, more than a minute off the target. Mutai and Abel Kirui picked up the pace through miles 14 (4:39) and 15 (4:39) as Wanjiru began to falter and Zersenay Tadese, the world half marathon record holder, showed signs of strain.
By mile 16, the group was down to five with Kirui and Mutai leading Kebede and Gharib, followed by the surprising Moroccan Abderrahim Bouramdane.
Kebede and Kirui took the lead through 30km in 1:28:46 – a 10km split of 28:52. They were now on 2:05-pace and just inside course record schedule. These two opened a gap on Mutai as they wound through the Docklands and under the Canary Wharf tower.
After a swift 20th mile (4:28) Kebede made his move. Maintaining his punchy, compact style the 23-year-old kicked away from Kirui and by 35km (1:43:30) had a seven-second lead. He ran hard through miles 22 (4:55), 23 (4:51) and 24 (4:46) building an unassailable lead as he swept down to the Embankment. The victory secured, he allowed himself to slow and enjoy the moment.
As he turned into the The Mall Kebede made a last sprint for Wanjiru’s record. It wasn’t to be, those slow early miles too much to overcome. He crossed the line as the third quickest ever over the London course, missing his PB by just one second. “I had to make the pace on my own at the end,” he said. “The pacemakers were not good today, so I am happy to run 2:05 on a day like today.”
Behind him, Kirui blew up in the last mile and a half and was passed by Mutai, who improved from fourth in 2008 and 2009. “When Kebede pushed I was left behind,” said Mutai. “I couldn’t go with him, so I focused on getting on the podium. I have finished fourth twice, so I am pleased to be second at last.”
As for Gharib, he had overcome mid-race stomach problems. “I was aiming to do better,” he said. “But after the problems I had I’m happy with the result.”
Bouramdane smashed his PB to take fourth in 2:07:33, 47 seconds inside his previous best while Kirui limped home in fifth in 2:08:04. The sad Tadese jogged home for his first marathon finish – seventh place in 2:12:03 just ahead of the first Briton, Andrew Lemoncello, who clocked 2:13:40 on his debut.
Kebede earned $130,000 for his efforts. Just four years earlier he was helping his father sell firewood in Addis Ababa to feed his 12 siblings. “It was a good day for him,” as the unfortunate Wanjiru put it. “Kebede did a good job today.” Indeed, he did.
The women’s race
Shobukhova is first for Russia
Liliya Shobukhova became the first Russian ever to win the women’s London Marathon after dominating a field packed with talent, including the reigning champion Irina Mikitenko, who dropped out with a shin injury after 11 miles, and Britain’s Mara Yamauchi, second in 2009, who finished 10th, the trials of a mammoth six-day journey to London taking its toll.
By contrast, Shobukhova never looked troubled. She pulled away from her compatriot Inga Abitova in the final mile to win in 2:22:00, a personal best by two minutes 24 seconds. Abitova made it a great day for Russia as she finished second in 2:22:19, beating her PB by more than three minutes, while world bronze medallist Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia was third, another 19 seconds behind and nearly two and a half minutes inside her previous best.
After their great duel last year, much of the pre-race attention had been on Yamauchi and Mikitenko, but this was the most competitive field for years, and many tipped Shobukhova following her impressive win over Mikitenko in Chicago the previous October.
As the women set off in light rain, the 32-year-old Russian immediately showed at the front of a large pack and remained in view for the entire length of the course. With air temperature at 10 degrees and winds light to non-existent, Shobukhova described the conditions as “almost perfect”.
No fewer than 17 athletes had asked for 2:22 pace and the experienced Hungarian Aniko Kalovics set about her pacemaking duties with determination, clipping through the first couple of miles in 5:25. Mergia, Mikitenko, and Yamauchi all showed early at the head of the large group alongside Shobukhova but after just two miles the Olympic champion, Constantina Dita, was already 100m behind, just over 20s adrift. She eventually finished 25th.
Mikitenko ran at the edge of the pack, seemingly to avoid bumping and splashes from the wet road. But as they strode past Cutty Sark and west towards Tower Bridge, the German began to slide out of contention. By mile nine she was 50 metres behind. She stopped and started three times before eventually dropping out at mile 11, saying afterwards, “My shin hurts now, but my head hurts more.”
At 15km (50:10) the lead group numbered 13, with Yamauchi still leading the pack. Shobukhova made her first move as they crossed Tower Bridge and Yamauchi began to struggle, her epic journey to beat the volcanic ash cloud starting to have an effect.
She was 10-seconds behind as the leaders passed half way in 1:10:56, bang on schedule. Kalovics’ job now done, the group shrank to seven with Shobukhova pushing the pace alongside Mergia, followed by China’s world champion Bai Xue, Ethiopians Askale Tafa and Bezunesh Bekele, plus Japanese pair Mari Ozaki and Yukiko Akaba. Abitova was also there, quietly making her presence felt.
The tall Russian was now running with real intent, her compact style and low stride looking smooth and efficient. At 30km (1:41:08) she was still on 2:22 pace, with Mergia, Bekele and Abitova her only company.
Mergia made the first move, clocking 5:18 for mile 23 – the quickest of the race so far. But Shobukhova had plenty in reserve. She locked onto the Ethiopian’s heels and these two ran together under Southwark Bridge towards the Embankment. Soon, Bekele’s challenge was over, but Abitova clawed her way back in touch as the front two slowed over mile 25 (5:31).
Shobukhova was merely gathering herself for the final push, however, and as the rain returned it was the Russian who upped the pace. She turned off the Embankment with a 30m lead and strode on past the Houses of Parliament, along Birdcage Walk and into The Mall to become the first Russian to win in London since Yakov Tolstikov took the men’s title in 1991 for the Soviet Union.
After finishing third 12 months before, Shobukhova completed a wonderful first year as a marathon runner with her second World Marathon Majors victory. “The pace was easy,” she said. “I felt comfortable running at the front and decided to push in the second half to break up the pack. It is my third marathon and my second win. Now I want to win the Olympics.”
“My race was amazing,” said Abitova, the 2006 European 10,000m champion. “I had to work really hard but I know I have good track speed and that helped me break through at the finish.”
Ethiopia filled places four and five, through Bekele and Tafa, while Britain’s favourite, Yamauchi, was tenth.
The men’s wheelchair race
Canada’s Cassidy gets first win
Canadian newcomer Josh Cassidy celebrated his first marathon title on a drizzly morning, handling the conditions well to beat the reigning champion Kurt Fearnley of Australia and Britain’s David Weir who was denied a fifth title by two punctures.
Cassidy chose slower tyres than Weir, who used a new racing chair built for endurance, and his tactical, come-from-behind performance was enough to secure the $15,000 prize.
“The weather played a part today,” said the 25-year-old. “I haven’t trained in rain for three months so I didn’t expect the result today. It means so much.”
Cassidy, a graphic designer, had been training with Weir in London, and the Briton had rated him as one to watch. By 5km, however, it was the British racer who led a pack of seven while Fearnley was already 22 seconds behind. At 10km, he was three minutes back as Weir and Japan’s Kota Hokinoue moved ahead.
At Tower Bridge Cassidy trailed Weir by a minute but it all changed as they reached the Embankment. Weir’s front tyre had punctured at 15 miles, so when he got another on his back wheel at 20 miles, he knew the game was up. Cassidy soon passed the ailing Briton and went on to claim victory in 1:35:21.
Switzerland’s Marcel Hug came through for second on his first London Marathon while Weir battled on for a respectable third in 1:37:01.
He said: “I tried my hardest but it was like doing another 20 miles on top when I got two punctures. As soon as your back tyres go, it’s a struggle to go very far. I was in great shape this year, so it’s obviously disappointing.”
Cassidy was elated with his biggest win. He said: “I knew it was going to be a tough race as I’ve been with some of these guys before but I was really excited about competing in London for the first time. There are lots of great races in this country and London is definitely one of them.”
Hokinoue was fourth in 1:40:59 and Fearnley fifth in 1:41:37, nearly 13 minutes outside his course record.
The women’s wheelchair race
Tsuchida wins second in a week
London debutante Wakako Tsuchida took her second major marathon title in the space of a week as she became the first Japanese winner of the women’s wheelchair race, beating course record holder Sandra Graf and reigning champion Amanda McGrory in a close finish.
Shelly Woods suffered the same fate as her compatriot David Weir when she punctured late in the race and could only finish sixth.
Woods was part of the leading pack from the start but there was little action until 25km when Canada’s Diane Roy, third in 2009, had to pull out with a puncture. That left four in the hunt, but disaster struck the Blackpool-based Briton when she blew two tyres in the last few miles, ending her hopes for victory.
As the three leaders entered The Mall it was McGrory who looked likely to retain her title, but Tsuchida’s class finish was simply too good. She crossed the line in 1:52:33, one second ahead of Graf and three in front of McGrory.
Tsuchida had won her fourth Boston title in a row just six days before, but was thought to be too inexperienced for the tactical London course.
“I had images about this race before I started and knew experience mattered,” said the surprised Japanese racer. “It was always going to be tactical so I was expecting a sprint finish. The weather was bad at the beginning but even though I’ve just won Boston, I really wanted to win.”
Graf, another to suffer puncture problems, said: “I got a slight puncture in my front tyre at about 30km. I’m not one to make excuses but it may have been a little different if we had dry conditions.”
McGrory was sad not to retain her title, but pleased to make the podium again. “It was great to be involved in such a tight race,” she said. “I was fine all the way but in the last 300 yards my arms just seemed to give way.”
The disappointed Woods came in sixth in 2:45:40. “There’s nothing like racing at home,” she said. “It’s just a shame I couldn’t show my sprint finish, but I will be back.”