2009 race report
The men’s race
Wanjiru wins in course record
The Olympic champion Sammy Wanjiru broke Martin Lel’s one-year-old course record to win the 2009 London Marathon in 2:05:10 after a gripping battle with Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede who finished just 10 seconds behind.
After Lel was forced to pull out with a hip injury last night, it was the three Olympic medallists who took the podium places as Kebede, the Beijing bronze medallist, was followed home by Jaouad Gharib, the silver medallist from China, who smashed his PB by more than a minute and a half in 2:05:27.
When three men broke 2:06 for the first time in history last year the race was described as the greatest in history. The first three home were even quicker this year but, remarkably, there was an air of disappointment at the end.
Wanjiru had predicted he would break Haile Gebrselassie’s world record of 2:03:59, and when the young Kenyan woke to see perfect conditions across the British capital he must have believed today was the day – light winds, hardly a cloud in the sky, and temperatures expected to rise no higher than 15 degrees. What could be better?
But crazy early speed put paid to Wanjiru’s hopes as the leaders sped through half way in 61:35 after setting off inside two hour pace. They’d been asked to take the leaders to 20 miles, but could never maintain such a high tempo. Some thought the chance to make history had been thrown away. For Wanjiru, though, by the end the win was enough.
“A course record is very good but in the end it was better to win the race because of all the good runners around me,” said Wanjiru who moves into seventh place on all-time list ahead of Lel.
Kebede moves into the top 10, while the times of the three medallists mean London is the second quickest marathon in the world, the average of its top ten times being just two seconds slower than Berlin.
For the Eritrean debutant Zersenay Tadese it was a baptism of fire. The three-times world half marathon champion found the going too tough at the full distance and, after staying with the leaders through the first 25km, he dropped out at 35km. World champion Luke Kibet was also forced to withdraw; the Kenyan gave up the ghost at 25km.
Many had high hopes for Tadese as he made his first marathon appearance in a field described as the greatest ever, even without Lel. The three-times champion was forced to withdraw on Saturday night, still troubled by a sore right hip he injured during his final training session last weekend.
“I need to be cautious,” Lel said. “The injury is not serious but the pain means I would not be at my best tomorrow.”
They set off from Greenwich in perfect conditions as the three Kenyan pacemakers, Elijah Keitany Kiplagat, Samuel Kosgei and John Kales, led them away at a pelt, clocking 4:35 for the first mile – with Wanjiru, Gharib and Kebede right on their heels. Tadese and last year’s third-placer Abderrahim Goumri hung towards the back of a group of ten along with Kenyan Emannuel Mutai, and the two surprises, South Africa’s Hendrick Ramaala and Morocco’s Ridouane Harroufi (a 2:10 man at his best).
The third mile was clicked off in 4:22 and by the time they went through the 5km point, in 14:06, they were already inside two hour pace. The pacemakers took a leading group of eight through the second 5km almost as quickly (14:24), and they passed 10km in a punishing 28:30, 40s quicker than Gebrselassie ran during his world record in Berlin last September.
Surely it couldn’t last – at this pace they would pass half way in one hour exactly. They slowed slightly with a third 5km of 14:42, but at 15km were still up on Gebrselassie’s schedule at 43:12 – 2:01-2:02 pace. They passed half way in 61:35, the fastest half way split in marathon history. They’d been asked to go through in 61:50, so this was great running with eight still shadowing the pacemakers.
But the blistering pace soon took its toll with mile splits drifting to 4:55, 4:59 and 5:00 through miles 14, 15 and 16. At 25km (1:13:35) they were still inside world record schedule although the pacemakers were slowing dramatically.
In the 18th mile Ramaala decided he’d had enough and pushed on, taking Wanjiru, Gharib and Kebede clear with a 4:37 surge for the 19th mile that left Tadese adrift. As they headed towards Canary Wharf, Wanjiru decided enough was enough and made a burst followed immediately by Kebede and Gharib.
The two 22-year-olds looked as fresh as Sunday morning joggers, while the 36-year-old Gharib, with a best of 2:07:02, couldn’t match their youthful zeal.
Shortly after mile 20, Wanjiru made his bid for glory and opened a lead on Kebede. Just as he had in Beijing last summer, the young Kenyan defied the swift early pace and kicked ahead, running 4:40 and 4:46 for the 20th and 21st miles.
Kebede had come to London hoping to bring Ethiopia its second major marathon victory in a week, but now he had to watch as the Kenyan gradually turned the screw. He glanced back to see Gharib still in touch and desperately trying to close the gap. Kebede responded and began to close on Wanjiru.
As they strode along the Embankment, the Kenyan led by 20m from the Ethiopian - with less than two miles to go, the race was definitely still on. Yet each time Kebede closed Wanjiru appeared to sense the threat and kicked again, stretching away like a ball on elastic.
By this stage of the Olympic final the world half marathon record holder had been away and clear, but this time he was running like a scared rabbit. Glancing back, he knew it wasn’t over yet. He turned the corner at the Houses of Parliament and put in another burst up Birdcage Walk. Finally, Kebede was broken.
Lel may not have been able to defend his title but the great Kenyan must have been delighted to see his friend following in his footsteps. Wanjiru sprinted down The Mall to take his team mate’s course record in 2:05:10.
“It was a tough race today,” he said. “All the good runners around make you run well. It wasn’t until the last 200 metres or so that I had the feeling that I was going to win.”
Kebede had given it everything, and was rewarded for his efforts with a personal best by 50 seconds. “At around 42km I felt I had to keep running as hard and as fast as I could because I wanted to win,” he said. “There were some very good runners here and to beat most of them is a good feeling. As for winning, maybe next year.”
“It was a really tough race,” said Gharib. “It was difficult to hold on and I think we went too fast in the first half. Every time I got close to the leader he went a little faster. At the end I gave it all I could and I could not hold on.”
Mutai was fourth for the second year in a row in 2:06:53 while Ramaala, fifth in 2:07:44, capped a great return to form in the 25th marathon of his career.
Wanjiru’s victory was the sixth in a row for Kenya in the men’s race and means the east African nation is now the most successful in London Marathon history with one more men’s winner than Great Britain whose last victory came in 1993.
The first Briton home this year was Andi Jones who was 13th in 2:15:20.
The women’s race
Mikitenko makes it two in a row
Irina Mikitenko became the first woman since Paula Radcliffe in 2003 to retain her London Marathon title this morning as she held off a spirited challenge from Britain’s Mara Yamauchi to win the third marathon of her career and cement her place as the world number one.
The 36-year-old produced a commanding performance as she broke away from the field after 20 miles and crossed the line in 2:22:11, improving on her 2008 time by more than two minutes.
“I was always confident that I had it in my legs and after 20 miles I saw no reason why I couldn’t win,” said the German record holder. “I felt once I pushed the pace a little the others wouldn’t follow.”
Yamauchi gave the record home crowds much to cheer as she surprised even herself by finishing second in 2:23:12, taking nearly two minutes from her best, while the European 5000m record holder Liliya Shobukhova of Russia produced a debut run to remember, finishing third in 2:24:24.
“I knew I would be able to beat Mara as I am the better middle distance runner,” said Mikitenko afterwards.
Nevertheless, Yamauchi clung to the champion as long as she could and was delighted to take the “big chunks” from her personal best that she had predicted.
“Towards the end I just thought to myself ‘Keep it cool, keep it cool and you’ll be OK’,” she said. “In the marathon you’ve just got to dig in and hang on.”
Mikitenko had a superb year in 2008, scoring a great victory in Berlin that made her the fourth quickest woman of all-time. But a back problem meant she was forced to miss the Olympic Games. How she must wish she’d been there, for she destroyed all three Beijing medallists in the race today.
Indeed, the Olympic champion Constantina Dita had a day to forget. Running her eighth London Marathon, the Romanian struggled to make an impact and dropped out at half way with a pain in her liver and breathing problems.
Beijing silver medallist Catherine Ndereba again let the leaders get too far ahead and finished seventh in 2:26:22, while China’s Zhou Chunxiu, third in Beijing and London champion in 2006, struggled badly in the closing stages. She finished 12th in 2:29:02 after running with the leaders for the first 17 miles.
Always present at the front of the field, Mikitenko made the most of perfect conditions, following the pacemaker, Aniko Kalovics, from the start. The Hungarian had been asked to run 71 minutes for the first half and she stuck to her task pretty well, going through the early miles in 5:27 and 5:22.
Yamauchi, Mikitenko and Zhou were already showing on the pacemaker’s shoulder while Ndereba, true to habit, spent the early miles towards the back.
Dita’s troubles started early. She showed at the front in the first miles, but by the end of the largely downhill third mile (run in a swift 5:07) she was already 30m behind the leaders. For such an habitual front runner, it an ominous sign.
“From about 10km I felt the pain. I thought I could finish but it got too bad,” she said, suggesting the toll of travel and publicity that comes with being an Olympic champion had been too much.
By 10km (33:14) the leading pack was already down to four – Yamauchi, Mikitenko, Yamauchi, Zhou and the Japanese runner, Mika Okunaga – while the second group, featuring Ndereba, Shobukhova, and the Ethiopians Gete Wami and Berhane Adere, was 100m behind.
Mikitenko, wearing long white socks, made a break shortly before 20km (67:09) – leaving Kalovics behind, her day’s work done. The champion crossed Tower Bridge followed by Yamauchi and Zhou, in her trademark white cap.
At half way the leaders were bang on pace at 1:10:53 while the second group, now led by Ndereba, was a minute down, but with a lot of talented runners in the pack the race seemed far from over.
Zhou lost touch as the leading trio passed 17 miles, leaving Yamauchi to shadow Mikitenko as they wound through the Isle of Dogs and under the giant Canary Wharf tower.
At 30km (1:41:14) Mikitenko made her first push for victory but Yamauchi clung to her like an owner to an untamed dog. Each time the German appeared to be opening a small gap, the Briton dragged her back until, with her husband Alexander urging her on at the roadside, Mikitenko kicked in a 20th mile of 5:24.
That effort opened three or four metres which slowly grew to 10, then 15. After a 21st mile of 5:25 the champion and favourite was away and gone. At 35km Zhou was some 45 seconds back and fading badly with the chasing pack another minute and a half adrift.
A year ago she’d saved her effort until mile 24, but Mikitenko passed the Tower of London, shortly after 22 miles, getting stronger and stronger, while Yamauchi, 13 seconds back, was being cheered home by some of the biggest crowds ever seen at the London Marathon.
Behind the leaders, Ethiopia’s Berhane Adere led the chasers with Shobukhova and Svetlana Zakharova beside her.
Mikitenko powered on ahead, down the Embankment towards Westminster. For the second year in a row she strode alone through Parliament Square, up Birdcage Walk and into The Mall to become the first woman to retain the London title for six years and join an illustrious group of double London winners, including Joyce Smith, Ingrid Kristiansen and Katrin Dorre as well as Radcliffe.
She crossed the line in 2:22:11 followed by Yamauchi who took nearly two minutes from her PB. She said she’d wanted to knock chunks off and she had done just that.
“I finally got under 2:25,” she said. “I knew I had made a big improvement in my training in the last year and it showed.
“It felt like an arena on the way home because all I could hear was ‘Come on Mara’. Now, I’m going to celebrate and have a rest.”
Shobukhova followed Yamauchi home, a superb debut from her, 42 seconds ahead of Zakharova who followed up her second place from 2008 with fourth this time. Adere was fifth and Ndereba sixth.
“I was surprised the others fell back so quickly,” said Mikitenko “I was stronger today but in the last 3km I really had to fight as I was leading the race and the wind was a little hard.
“But the race was awesome. Of course, I was under pressure as the title defender but I trained really well and now I can’t believe I have won for the second time in a row at the London Marathon. I am so happy.”
The men’s wheelchair race
Fearnley takes Weir’s title in new course record
Australian Kurt Fearnley won his first London title in style beating the best field the wheelchair race has seen in many years. The Paralympic gold medallist was in great form to take Briton David Weir’s 2008 title as well as his 2006 course record.
The weather conditions were perfect this morning, so expectations were high for a competitive race. Both Fearnley and Weir are experts in marathon sprint finishes and were involved in last year’s seven-man title challenge, with Weir victorious. A few miles into this year’s race, that looked likely again.
Weir and South African Ernst Van Dyk broke away early from the leading pack. By seven miles, they were joined by Fearnley and Heinz Frei from Switzerland for what looked like it was going to be a four-man race.
At half way all four were on pace to beat Weir’s 1:29:48 course record. Nearly 40 seconds behind were Japan’s Masazumi Soejima and the French former champion Denis Lemeunier.
Marathon world record holder 51-year-old Heinz Frei was unfortunate to drop back from the leaders at the 20-mile stage. Weir, Van Dyk and Fearnley were all going to challenge for the number one spot.
As the three came round the finishing corner with 600m to go, Van Dyk was ahead. However, with top sprinters Fearnley and Weir behind they were the likely ones to challenge the lead and overtook him on the straight.
Fearnley crossed the line in a new course record of 1:28:56, with Weir just one second behind. Monday’s Boston winner Van Dyk finished in 1.28. 59.
After the race, all were reflective on their own race tactics. Fearnley and Weir have had a competitive last 12 months and clashed on the track at the Beijing Paralympics.
Weir hasn’t competed since the 1500m final in Beijing, where he won his second gold medal of the Games.
The 28-year-old Fearnley finished second in the last two London Marathons behind Weir so was overjoyed with the triumph.
“It was a really good finish,” he said. “I haven’t been in too many marathons where the finish was that close.
“David was a tough challenger, but I was never going to let him get away with that. When it came to the last 200 metres, I kept thinking about the finish and pushed really hard. It’s been a hard last four month training but it came good in the end”.
Second placed Weir said his lack of training after Beijing was one of the reasons for the defeat.
“It wasn’t too bad a result as I have only been back in my chair in the last two months,” he said.
“I had a break after Beijing and I have had limited amounts of training. All of these guys are doing marathons every other week. I can only do two in a year. At the end I didn’t have a little bit extra to fight for the win.”
Soejima finished fourth (1:30:13) and Frei fifth (1:30:16) while another Briton, Brian Alldis, who is trained by past London Marathon winner Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, came a creditable 10th in 1:40:15.
The women’s wheelchair race
McGrory races to first victory
Amanda McGrory won the women’s London Wheelchair Marathon in what the most exciting marathon race since the Beijing Paralympics. The American held off last year’s winner Sandra Graf of Switzerland to win by one second in 1:50:39 while only seven seconds separated the six top women.
The 22-year-old McGrory came second last year, clocking 1:51:58 and was fourth in last Monday’s Boston Marathon. In Beijing she won silver, so was happy to finally win in London.
“I knew it was going to be a tactical race today”, said McGrory. “There was a pack of six when we started and there were still six fighting it out at the finish. After a rough time in Boston, I am so happy that today went well.”
The experienced Graf was more than content with second. She is 17 years older than McGrory and her time of 1:50:40 was not enough to beat the course record she set last year of 1:48:04.
Graf is due to join McGrory in a 10km race in the USA. She believes McGrory is much better than her over that distance, but is holding on for her revenge in the New York Marathon later this year.
Debutant Diane Roy from Canada was third 1:50:41 after finishing second in Boston last Monday.
“This is my first time in London and I was pretty scared going into this race after Beijing where I had a crash, she said. “I was more careful going round the corner today into the final straight. Next time, I will be more confident”.
Paralympic marathon gold medallist Edith Hunkeler (SUI) finished fourth in 1:50:42, with Christie Dawes of Australia fifth a second behind.
Briton Shelly Woods was hoping to repeat her 2007 victory, but with such a great field, it was always going to be tough. She was still among the leaders as they entered the finishing straight but when Amanda McGrory broke free she had to be content with sixth in an impressive time of 1:50:46.