2008 race report
The men’s race
Lel takes third in thriller
On the 100th anniversary of marathon running, Martin Lel won his third London Marathon title and led three men under 2:06. In the city where the modern marathon distance was first established at the 1908 Olympics, Lel joined Mexico’s Dionicio Ceron and Antonio Pinto of Portugal as a triple London winner, retaining his crown and breaking the six-year-old course record in 2:05:15.
In the closing stages of one of the quickest races in history, Lel somehow found the energy for a flying sprint finish. He needed it, for his young compatriot Sammy Wanjiru and Abderrahim Goumri, the Moroccan who’d finished second the previous year, stuck with him through the final wet and gruelling miles.
The Kenyan pulled away over the last quarter of a mile to break his personal best by almost a minute and a half. In only his second full marathon, Wanjiru finished second in 2:05:24, clipping 75 seconds from his best, while Goumri was third in 2:05:30, a massive two minutes 14 seconds inside his PB.
With another Kenyan, Emmanuel Mutai, clocking 2:06:15 in fourth, USA’s Ryan Hall fifth in 2:06:17, and the Ethiopian Deriba Merga sixth in 2:06:38, all PBs, it was the first time six men have run under 2:07.
With five Kenyans in the elite field, the race was an unofficial Kenyan Olympic trial, and afterwards Lel learned that he’d sealed selection for Beijing while Wanjiru’s performance was an ominous sign of what he would produce in China. For Goumri, second in 2007, there was ample compensation in knowing he had broken Khalid Khannouchi’s Moroccan record.
The men set off at a pelt in near perfect conditions – 11°C and sunny. Dieudonne Didi of Rwanda and Cuthbert Nyasango from Zimbabwe led through mile one in 4:44. They’d been asked to run at 2:05 pace (62:30 at half way), and seemed intent doing that.Wanjiru was prominent alongside Lel, with Hall, Merga, Goumri, Mutai, Felix Limo of Kenya, Yonas Kifle of Eritrea and Hendrick Ramaala, the South African, struggling slightly at the rear.
They passed half way in a spectacular 62:14, one of the quickest first halves ever seen. But then the numbers began to dwindle as first Ramaala then Limo struggled to hold on. The pacemakers slipped away at 30km (1:28:29) and Hall began to wilt.
Wanjiru took up front-running duties, reducing the leading group to five with Lel, Mutai, Kifle and Goumri on the young Kenyan’s heels. At 18 miles they were still seven seconds inside Haile Gebrselassie’s 2007 world record pace, with 4:45 per mile needed to beat the Ethiopian’s mark.
But the long run for home from Docklands to Westminster was into a headwind and the cold rain clearly had an effect. The 21st mile was the first to slip outside five minutes (5:05), allowing Hall to rejoin the leaders. With the rain in their faces the pace slowed further to 35km (1:43:54) as the runners slipped behind world record schedule for the first time.
Hall’s efforts were to no avail. He and Mutai lost touch as Goumri, Lel, Merga and Wanjiru powered on along the rain-sodden Highway towards the Tower and down onto the Embankment. The two Kenyans ran stride for stride with Goumri and Merga tucked in behind. Merga was the first to crack as the rain eased, while Lel checked his opponents.
He must have been licking his lips. He had defeated Goumri in a sprint finish twice in 2007 and outsprinted Wanjiru to win the Great North Run. Remarkably, the champion still looked for all the world like a Sunday morning jogger dodging the puddles.
Goumri lost two metres in Birdcage Walk as the Kenyans geared up for the sprint. Lel led round the corner past Buckingham Palace and struck for home. Wanjiru was finished and Lel blasted for the line like a fast-finishing miler.
“As the champion I was under pressure to do something today”, said Lel later. “They asked for something and I gave something. We had a chance to break the world record. A chance.”
“The guy is just faster than me”, said the beaten Goumri. “But it was a great race.” Indeed, it was.
His last 385 yards was timed at 57 seconds. The first three home set the fifth, sixth and seventh quickest times ever. Lel, already well-known as a champion racer, was now fourth on the world all-time list.
Further back, world champion Luke Kibet finished 11th in 2:12:13, and Olympic champion Stefano Baldini out-battled Britain’s Dan Robinson for 12th in 2:13:06, a bad day for the Italian. Robinson clinched his spot in Britain’s Olympic team finishing 13th in a personal best of 2:13:10.
The women’s race
Mikitenko makes them pay
Irina Mikitenko sprung a shock to win the women’s race in only her second marathon, beating the much-fancied Ethiopian pair of Gete Wami and Berhane Adere and lowering her personal best by 37 seconds.
After starting in calm, cool sunshine, Mikitenko battled through wind and rain in the closing stages to become the first German winner in London since Katrin Dorre took the third of her trio of titles in 1994. Leading for much of the race, the 35-year-old shrugged off Wami, the reigning World Marathon Majors champion, and Russia’s Svetlana Zakharova over the last three miles to cross the line in 2:24:14.
The 37-year-old Zakharova finished second for the third time in 2:24:39 in her first London Marathon for four years, while Wami overcame a dramatic fall at 30km to finish third in 2:25:37.
“I was in such good shape I knew I could do it,” said Mikitenko, a former Kazakhstani, who ran an aggressive race from the start. “I am so happy to win my first marathon and I know I have much more to show at this distance.”
Zakharova, in only her second race since giving birth just a year before, was rewarded at the finish with news of her selection for the Olympic Games. Wami, who defeated Mikitenko in Berlin the previous September, had to be satisfied with third after her second place in 2007. “If I hadn’t fallen I would have run much better,” she said.
Despite the perfect conditions the first mile was exceptionally slow, 6:14, but it was no surprise that Constantina Dita led them out in the early stages. Wearing white gloves, the tall Romanian adopted her usual position at the fore of the large group, with Mikitenko, Souad Ait Salem of Algeria and another Romanian Adriana Pirtea alongside her. The pace picked up through the downhill third mile with the British pair Liz Yelling and Hayley Haining at the front.
The fluctuating pace settled down as they passed 10km in 34:49 before Mikitenko began to stretch, the tiny figure of Kenya’s debutante Everline Kimwei pattering along behind her. They clicked through 10 miles in 55:29 before Mikitenko and Dita led nine over Tower Bridge just as news came through of a gas leak on The Highway. Danger was averted, however, as the athletes were skilfully directed to the far side of the carriageway for a few hundred metres.
Wami struck out for the Docklands running 5:13 for mile 14, the second quickest of the race. It looked a significant move, but misfortune was waiting just around the corner. As the runners approached the 30km drinks station near Canary Wharf, Ait Salem fell in front of Wami and the Ethiopian tripped, hitting her face, hands and knee on the tarmac. She lost 100 metres and 30 seconds on the leaders. “When I got up the first thing I did was check my teeth,” she said later. “It felt as if they had fallen out.”
Her recovery was anything but toothless, however. Slowly Wami made up ground and re-joined the leading five as the runners turned back towards the centre of London. Now the race was on and Wami, remarkably, began to push the pace.
Zakharova, defying her 37 years, stuck to Mikitenko and Wami as they passed 35km in around 2:00:26, the medallists decided if not the order. As the rain began to fall Mikitenko put in yet another effort. Running 5:13 for mile 24 she finally got away leaving Zakharova and the bruised Wami in her wake.
Visibly strengthened by her growing lead, she strode on through Parliament Square, up Birdcage Walk and past Buckingham Palace, sprinting to the line like the former track runner she is. “I had so much energy left at the end,” she said. “I knew I could run much faster in the last 5km because at the beginning we were so slow.”
What effect the fall had on Wami’s chances is difficult to know but she was clearly in pain as she limped across the line. When Mikitenko finished second behind Wami in Berlin her husband had told her to slow down. This time the German ran her own focused race, unaware of Wami’s fall.
Yelling, who had run alone for most of the second half, finished ninth in 2:28:33, a personal best by exactly two minutes and, more importantly, a ticket to China with Britain’s Olympic team. Haining also broke her PB in 12th, clocking 2:29:18.
The men’s wheelchair race
Weir sprints to three-year hat-trick
Britain’s David Weir triumphed in the most competitive London Wheelchair Marathon to become the first male athlete to win three titles in succession. He had to fight off six competitors in The Mall to win the fourth London Marathon of his career.
There was a large pack from the start as Weir was joined at the head of the field by the Australian Paralympic champion Kurt Fearnley, world record holder Heinz Frei, former winner Denis Lemeunier, Ernst Van Dyk, the world’s fastest, plus London debutants South African Krige Schabort, American Joshua George and Japan’s Choke Yasuoka.
Yasuoka’s challenge ended near the Cutty Sark when he tangled wheels with Fearnley. The Australian has lots of experience with crashes, punctures and falls, so he quickly extricated himself to sprint back to the pack.
From then on the magnificent seven stayed together although Weir tried to escape on the inclines. As they reached The Mall Weir unleashed his explosive finish, grabbing a 10-metre lead which he increased to the line to win by a full four seconds in 1:33:56.
Fearnley finished second as he did in 2007 with Lemeunier third only a second behind. Schabort and Frei followed at one-second intervals but Van Dyk and George crashed spectacularly into the advertising hoardings just short of the finish. They recovered to take sixth and seventh respectively while Britain’s rising star Brian Alldis was next in 1:37:23, a personal best.
“This was the hardest of my victories as it was a tactical race with a bigger pack than previously,” said Weir. “I tried to break a number of times but the headwind was too strong and they always came back to me. I just stayed with them and got them in the end.”
It was a great comeback for Weir after a serious bout of glandular fever in the winter followed by an illness he described as “man flu”.
The women’s wheelchair race
Graf breaks course record
Sandra Graf of Switzerland took the women’s race apart on her London debut and significantly enhanced her growing reputation by breaking the course record in 1:48:04, more than a minute quicker than the time set by the respected Swede Monica Wetterstrom in 1997.
Graf made her intentions clear after 15km with a break that she extended to the end. She finished almost four minutes clear of Amanda McGrory with the British title holder Shelly Woods third, more than 13 minutes behind.
Woods was hampered by a puncture suffered in the early stages and finished in her slowest time since 2006.
“I was feeling good and ready for a quick time but got a puncture at three miles,” said Woods. “This made it very hard to hold on to the others as I couldn’t change the tyre until 20 miles.”