Men's race report: Mutai smashes London's course record
Emmanuel Mutai smashed the course record to take the Virgin London Marathon men's title with a dominating performance that left the defending champion Tsegaye Kebede floundering in his wake as Kenya swept all three medals.
A year ago, Mutai made a late surge to finish second, but this time he left little to chance, bursting away after 20 miles and powering home over the last six miles to win in 2:04:40, half a minute quicker than Sammy Wanjiru's 2009 record, making him the fourth fastest marathon man in history.
For Mutai, who was second at the 2009 World Championships and in New York last November, this was a triumph to savour as his victory by a minute and five seconds was the biggest winning margin here since Japan's Toshihiko Seko beat Hugh Jones in 1986.
"Since I started running in London, I have twice finished fourth and last year I was second," said the 26-year-old. "This year I have come back and my dreams have come true. I so much wanted to win a major marathon and this time I did it."
Three-time London winner Martin Lel made a remarkable return to marathon running after nearly three years out to take second in a sprint finish from 2010 Berlin champion Patrick Makau, the pair completing the first medal sweep here since Britain filled the top three spots in 1985.
Both recorded 2:05:45, a time only 30 seconds outside his Lel's personal best. It was an unexpected performance from the former champion as he was only added to the entries three weeks ago and hasn't run a marathon since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"I am a little bit surprised," said the smiling Lel. "I thought I could run 2:10 and maybe finish in the top 10. I didn't think about the top two, it is way beyond what I expected."
As for Kebede, he had to be satisfied with fifth in 2:07:48 after Mutai ground his dreams of a world record into the London dust.
Kebede had looked superbly confident early on, grinning and waving to the crowd at the start line. He tucked in behind the pacemakers as the runners set off in near perfect conditions - 10 degrees, light cloud and virtually no wind.
A line of pacemakers took them through mile one in 4:50. The leaders had asked for 2:04 pace, so this was a steady start. Last year's bronze medallist, Jaouad Gharib was prominent early on with Kebede and USA's Mohamed Trafeh also close on the heels of pacers Shadrack Kosgei and Ahmed Hassan Abdullah.
A 10-strong bunch soon opened a slight gap on the rest and the race began to take shape. Among them were five Kenyans - Mutai, Lel, Makau, James Kwambai, and world champion Abel Kirui, plus, Moroccan Abderrahim Bouramdane, and two-times New York winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil.
The pace picked up through mile three and they passed 5k in 14:34, six seconds quicker than at this stage in 2010, but still a tad down on their target. At this stage they were adrift of Wanjiru's record pace and off the world record schedule Kebede had so boldy predicted in the pre-race press conferences.
The Ethiopian was keen to push on, and the result was immediately apparent as they sped through five miles in 23:31, hit the 10km point in 29:25 and 15k in 44:27.
By the time they passed 10 miles, in 47:42, Trafeh had paid for his early enthusiasm and disappeared off the back. The leaders strode over the river at Tower Bridge and through half way in 62:45, outside the world record target but still on course for Wanjiru's 2:05:10 figures.
Lel looked easy alongside Kirui and Mutai as the nine leading men now gathered themselves for the serious racing. The last pacemaker fell away at 30k, and Kebede began to make a move as they twisted through Docklands and under Canary Wharf. By the time they emerged the group was down to six, Kebede shadowed by Mutai, Lel, Kwambai and Makau.
Last year only Kirui had stayed with the stocky Ethiopian, and he paid for his lone assault. This time Mutai and Lel unleashed a two-pronged attack and the reigning champion immediately felt his crown begin to slip.
Mutai unleashed a 4:29 mile, the quickest of the race so far, and immediately opened a 100m lead, leaving Makau and Lel to fight for the lesser spoils. Now in bright sun, he forged on alone, recording a 5k split from 30 to 35km of 14:16.
He strode out along the Embankment without a single opponent in sight and by the time he rounded the final bend in front of Buckingham Palace he had time to enjoy the welcoming crowd.
Not that he eased home. Mutai sprinted for the line to become the ninth man to break 2:05, recording his fifth sub-2:07 time, the fifth quickest marathon ever run.
"I wasn't thinking about the time, only about winning," said Mutai. "But I improved my best from 2:06 to 2:04. I really can't ask for more than that.
"Now I can say I am a great marathon runner because I achieved two goals at once - I won London and I ran 2:04."
Behind him Lel unleashed a furious sprint in the last few metres to beat Makau after the two had battled hard over the final miles. Lel completed an astonishing return to racing as he dipped ahead of his compatriot.
"When Emmanuel went I thought I couldn't stay with him," said Lel. "I didn't know how my body would respond and wanted to make sure I could finish."
As for Makau, after winning in Rotterdam and Berlin last year he was happy to reach the podium on his London debut, revealing later that he'd fallen just after half way and almost dropped out.
"I had some problems with my knees and hips, so I was not confident," he said. "I fell about 10 metres behind at 22k and thought about withdrawing, but I decided to go on again. I was not 100 per cent at the end."
Dos Santos smashed his PB by more than two minutes to finish fourth in 2:06:33, just 28 seconds outside Ronaldo da Costa's Brazilian record, while the crest-fallen Kebede jogged home in fifth.
Gharib followed in sixth, a rare miss for the 38-year-old Moroccan, while Dmitriy Safronov of Russia was first European in 2:09:35.
Lee Merrien was first Briton, finishing 14th in 2:14:27, one place ahead of the struggling Andrew Lemoncello.