2003 race report
The men’s race
Abera triumphs in sprint finish
The 24 year old Ethiopian Gezahegne Abera came to London as the only runner ever to hold the world and Olympic titles simultaneously and with a reputation for winning close finishes.
It was a reputation he confirmed with a brilliant sprint victory in the final 400 metres over four runners, including the man who was to succeed him as Olympic champion in less than 18 months time.
For much of the race Abera formed part of the crocodile of athletes that followed the Kenyan pacemaker, Eliud Lagat. Even as the race approached its closing stages, there were still half a dozen athletes in contention and although the Korean, Lee Bong-Ju, was dropped, five runners closed in on the finish line together.
Abera, Kenya’s Joseph Ngolepus and Paul Tergat, Italy’s Stefano Baldini, and Abdelkader El Mouaziz of Morocco were running abreast as they came up The Mall. It felt like an eternity before the sprint for the finish finally came when Baldini made a dash for the line.
His moment of glory was short-lived, however, as Abera, who had looked comfortable throughout the race, shortened his stride to sprint past him. They were both given the same time, 2:07:56, while Ngolepus was just a second back in 3rd. Tergat, who had finished 2nd in the last two London Marathons, again suffered for his lack of sprint finish and came home 4th.
The women’s race
Radcliffe rewrites the record books
Paula Radcliffe, running with help from two male pacemakers, rewrote the record books yet again with a sensational world record of 2:15:25, knocking an astonishing 1 minute and 53 seconds from the time she set in Chicago the previous October.
Radcliffe’s preparations had been anything but perfect as she dislocated her jaw when colliding with a cyclist during training at Albuquerque, New Mexico, early in the year. But it was a perfect day for marathon running, with temperatures at a lowly 10ºC at the start, and rising just 6 degrees during the race. Radcliffe also had the assistance of a south-easterly breeze for much of the race.
In only her 3rd race over the distance, Radcliffe made her intentions clear from the start, latching onto the two pacemakers designated to run at 2:16 pace. In fact, they started at a much faster tempo and Radcliffe’s 3rd mile, aided by the descent into Woolwich, was an electric 4:57. This must have been slightly worrying for Samson Loywapet, one of her pacemakers, whose personal best stood at just 2:12.
“I was a bit conscious that the 3rd mile was too fast and I tried to back off a little bit”, said Radcliffe later. Over the 4th and 5th miles a lead of 20 seconds over the chasing athletes, led by Romanian Constantina Tomescu-Dita, was briefly reduced to 10 seconds. Any developing sense of a contest soon faded, however, as Radcliffe settled into a relentless rhythm.
With the Kenyan pacemakers, Loywapet and Christopher Kandie, running just ahead of her and to the side, Radcliffe rattled off mile after mile at an average pace of around 5:14, and pushed steadily further and further ahead. She passed the halfway mark in 1:08:02, on schedule to break her own world record by well over a minute.
Tomescu-Dita posted an exceptional time of 1:09:21 in 2nd place but by now the extraordinary athlete ahead of her was out of sight.
In the second half of the race, the Romanian started to pay for her first half efforts and began to fade. Radcliffe, by contrast, seemed to get stronger after crossing Tower Bridge and, with a succession of miles at around 5:10, reached 30km in a new world best time of 1:36:39.
At 19 miles, Kandie resigned his pace making duties leaving only Loywapet to chaperone Radcliffe home. She passed 20 miles in 1:43:34, another world best, and only then took off the gloves she had been wearing from the start.
Catherine Ndereba continued to run with hat and gloves on, even though the dawn crispness had long left the air. The Kenyan sparked into life at the halfway mark, overtook Tomescu-Dita and established 2nd place as her own. Far from making any inroads on Radcliffe’s lead, however, she continued to lose ground on the leader.
Radcliffe had to contend with a slight headwind at mile 25, but still upped the tempo as she turned into The Mall. With the crowd roaring her on, the 29 year old sprinted across the finish line in 2:15:25, exactly 4.5 minutes (or almost a mile) ahead of Ndereba. “In the last 5 or 6 miles I was struggling a bit and my stomach was cramping”, said Radcliffe, who nevertheless managed her third negative split in as many marathons.
The American Deena Drossin (later Kastor) took 3rd place in 2:21:16 to set a new US record, breaking Joan Benoit’s mark set in 1985, while three other athletes – Susan Chepkemei, Lyudmila Petrova and Tomescu-Dita – ducked under 2:24.
The men’s wheelchair race
Course record for genius Jeannot
“My motivation was first class today”, said Joel Jeannot after winning the fastest ever London Wheelchair Marathon. The Frenchman beat the course record by more than 3 minutes in 1:32:02.
Jeannot was among the leading group of 3 until half way, along with 2002 winner David Weir and 2001 champion, Denis Lemeunier, another Frenchman. But Jeannot used his renowned strength to pull away, winning by more than 2 minutes.
“Today was a good day for me”, said Jeannot, who completed a magnificent double only a week after victory in the Paris Marathon where he also broke the course record.
Weir beat Lemeunier in a sprint as both also beat the old course record with 1:34:48 and 1:34:50 respectively, Weir reducing his personal best by 5 minutes. A third Frenchman, Charles Tolle, finished 4th in 1:41:17 putting behind him the loss of a wheel in 2002, while Tushar Patel finished a creditable 5th in 1:42:56 having just recovered from a wrist injury.
The women’s wheelchair race
Porcellato pinches the title
Italian Francesca Porcellato won the women’s race in 2:04:21 and afterwards described the London course as, “The most beautiful but the most challenging, and the best marathon in the world.”
Porcellato and 6 times champion Tanni Grey-Thompson were together until the troublesome cobbles at the Tower of London when the Italian opened a gap which she increased to more than 30 seconds by the finish.
Grey-Thompson was satisfied with her performance – almost 20 minutes faster than in 2002 – saying, “My target is to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens. After that I will probably take part mainly in road racing.”
Paula Craig was the most improved wheelchair athlete of the day. Still a novice, she said: “I am pleased to finish 3rd in a strong field and to improve my best by 40 minutes.”