Men’s race report: Kipchoge denies Kipsang in thrilling finish
In a thrilling sprint finish, the former 5000m world champion and London debutant surged ahead of his countryman and reigning champion, Wilson Kipsang, in the final mile of the race to win in 2:04:42. Kipsang finished just yards behind in 2:04:47.
Kipchoge’s winning time was just 13 seconds outside the London course record of 2:04:29, set by Kipsang in 2014, but he wasn’t racing for a time today, he was racing for glory.
“It was a tough race today but my training paid off and everything went to plan,” he said afterwards. “When the pace picked up at 30km I felt comfortable. The crowds were wonderful and lifted me for the sprint finish.”
Billed as the ‘Clash of the Champions’, today’s 35th edition of the London Marathon featured the greatest men’s field ever assembled, with five of the world’s all-time top 10 and eight men who have run sub 2:05.
With such class in the field, the world’s fastest men began at a quick pace, with a group of 10 forming behind the two Kenyan pacemakers, Wilfred Murgor and Edwin Kipyego.
The leading group featured seven top Kenyan runners – Kipchoge, Kipsang, Dennis Kimetto, Stanley Biwott, Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai and Samuel Kitwara – along with the Ethiopians Tsegaye Mekonnen and Tilahun Regassa, and Eritrea’s Samuel Tsegay.
The men made the most of a downhill section of the course in the first few miles to go through 5K in 14:31 – at course-record pace – but the pace then settled, with the 10 east Africans going through 10K in 29:14, cheered by amazing crowds as they passed the glorious sight of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. Tucked in behind the pacemakers, the men took turns at the front, checking each other out but with no one ready to make a move.
Stanley Biwott, runner-up in last year’s race, led the group through 15K in 44:04 – bang on schedule for Kipsang’s course record.
Geoffrey Mutai was the first victim of the quick pace, slipping back as they headed across Tower Bridge and past the 20K point. The 2011 New York Marathon champion drifted off the back of the group, before dropping out just after half way.
With just nine men still in contention, the pacemakers glanced at their watches as the leading men headed along Narrow Street in Wapping, perhaps sensing that the pace was slipping a little. Kipchoge led the group, just a stride behind the pacers with Kipsang hanging towards the back.
Emmanuel Mutai and Samuel Tsegay were the next men to drop out of the leading group as they reached the 15-mile point. Mutai was London Marathon champion in 2011 and has tackled the course seven times ahead of today, but could not find his best form when it mattered, eventually finishing 10th in 2:10:54. Tsegay dropped out of the race soon after the 25km point; a disappointing day for the Eritrean.
The young Ethiopian Mekonnen was the next to drop off the pace, leaving just six men in the group as they went through 25K in 1:14:03.
Kipchoge and Kimetto moved to the front with Kipsang and Kitwara a pace behind and Biwott and Regassa at the back, all still looking relaxed.
Former Rotterdam champion Regassa put in a surge but everyone responded as the group of six passed beneath Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers to reach the 30K point in 1:28:56. For the first time in the race, reigning champion Kipsang moved to the front and pushed the pace a little, resulting in a slightly faster mile of 4:51 for mile 20.
There was nothing to choose between them as six men spread out across the road in a single line, matching each other stride for stride, but once past the 35km point, which they passed in 1:44:02, Kitwara dropped off the pace to reduce the leading group to five men. The 2014 Chicago Marathon runner-up went to on to finish sixth in 2:07:43.
The remaining five headed along The Highway and towards the finish, the masses passing on the other side of the road giving them a huge cheer.
A couple of slower miles put the course record out of reach and looked to be playing into the hands of the former track champion, Kipchoge, who put in a surge that detached Regassa and, briefly, Kimetto. The world recod holder got back in touch, but the acceleration ended Regassa’s hopes, and the 25-year-old Ethiopian went on to finish in fifth in 2:07:16.
Four men were left to battle for three medals as they headed past the Tower of London and into the final few miles of the race.
Kipsang and Kipchoge made their move as they dipped out of sight beneath an underpass emerging with a 20-metre lead over Biwott and Kimetto that gradually grew along the Embankment.
Both front-runners looked supremely, despite a 2:48 kilometre to reach the 40km mark in 1:58:29. Kipchoge made a move but could only manage to get a stride ahead before Kipsang was back alongside him as the pair turned to pass Big Ben.
Back in 2013, Kipchoge finished runner-up to Kipsang at the Berlin Marathon but he was not prepared to let history repeat itself today.
With 650m to go Kipchoge accelerated again, putting in a surge that turned out to be the decisive move of the race. Unable to respond, Kipsang dropped behind, first 5m then more as Buckingham Palace came into view.
Now Kipchoge’s win was never in any doubt. He strode ahead to break the tape in triumph.
The first Briton home was Scott Overall. The Blackheath & Bromley runner finished in 13th place in 2:13:13.