Women's race report: Shobukhova is first for Russia
Liliya Shobukhova became the first Russian ever to win the women's London Marathon this morning when she added the 2010 title to her Chicago Marathon victory from 2009.
Shobukhova produced a commanding performance to beat a field packed with talent from all over the world, including the reigning champion Irina Mikitenko, who dropped out with a shin injury after 11 miles, and Britain's Mara Yamauchi, second last year, who fell off the pace just before half-way and finished 10th in 2:26:16, the trials of her much-publicised journey to London clearly taking its toll.
By contrast, Shobukhova, third in 2009, never looked troubled as she led the field for much of the race before pulling away from her compatriot Inga Abitova in the final mile to win in 2:22:00, a personal best by all of 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 the world championships bronze medallist Asselefech Mergia of Ethiopia was third, another 19 seconds behind, 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 also thought to be the most competitive field for years, and many tipped Shobukhova as one to watch following her impressive win over Mikitenko in Chicago last October.
It was clear from the start that she was in good shape. As the women set off in light rain, the 32-year-old immediately showed towards the front of a large pack and remained in view for the entire length of the course.
With the temperature at 10 degrees and winds light to non-existent, the conditions were pretty good for marathon running. Indeed, in contrast to the men, who complained that the unexpected rain had slowed them down, Shobukhova described the conditions as "almost perfect".
No fewer than 17 athletes had asked to be taken out at 2:22 pace and the experienced Hungarian Aniko Kalovics set about her pacemaking task 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 the leaders, just over 20s adrift. She eventually finished 50th.
Shobukhova's compatriot, Mariya Konovalova, was already having a difficult debut. She lay some 38s behind, while the 2006 champion, Deena Kastor, was six seconds back, a gap which grew to 33s at 10km, a point passed by the leaders in 33:17.
Mikitenko was running at the edge, seemingly to avoid bumping from opponents and splashes from the wet road. But as a large group of 15 or so strode past Cutty Sark and west towards Tower Bridge, the German began to slide back.
By mile nine it was clear the defending champion had already lost her title. She was 50 metres behind, suffering with a sore shin. 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 behind Kalovics. The world champion Bai Xue, and world silver medallist, Yoshimi Ozaki were both in the hunt, looking comfortable.
Shobukhova made her first move as they crossed Tower Bridge and strode on towards half way. Yamauchi began to struggle, at first dropping a few metres off the back. Her epic journey to London, and last year's foot injury, was beginning to have an effect.
She was 10-seconds behind as the leaders passed half way in 1:10:56, bang on schedule. Kalovic's job now done, the lead group quickly shrunk to seven with Shobukhova pushing the pace alongside Mergia, followed by Bai, the Ethiopians Askale Tafa and Bezunesh Bekele, the Japanese pair Mari Ozaki and Yukiko Akaba, and Abitova, who was quietly making her presence felt.
They passed 25km in 1:24:04, and as they twisted through the Docklands it became clear the tall Russian was running with real intent, her compact style and low stride looking smooth and effficient. At 30km (1:41:08) she was still on 2:22 pace.
Gradually she whittled the group down to four, with Mergia and Bekele tracking her and Abitova. Now it was Russia versus Ethiopia.
Mergia made the first move, clocking 5:18 for mile 23 - the quickest of the race so far - as she pulled ahead of the Russian. But Shobukhova had plenty in reserve. She locked onto the Ethiopian's heels and the two leaders ran together under the tunnel at Southwark Bridge and on towards the Embankment with Abitova in chase.
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. As the rain returned it was the Russian who upped the pace. She is the European record holder over 5000m and has plenty of track speed when she needs it.
She turned off the Embankment with a 30m lead and, in front of massive crowds, 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 here 12 months ago, 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 reigning 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 had to accept her fate. "I just wasn't as prepared as I was last year," said Yamauchi, who set a best of 2:23:12 in 2009. "I think my journey to get here tired me out more than I thought."