News & Media

Race Report 2009

Men’s race
Women’s race
Men’s wheelchair race
Women’s wheelchair race

The men’s race

Wanjiru wins in course record

Olympic champion Sammy Wanjiru broke the injured Martin Lel’s one-year-old course record to win the 2009 race in 2:05:10 after a gripping duel with Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede who finished just 10 seconds behind.

It was the three Olympic medallists who took the podium places as Jaouad Gharib, the silver medallist in Beijing, followed bronze medallist Kebede home, smashing his PB by more than a minute and a half in 2:05:27.

The first three were even faster than in 2008, yet there was an air of disappointment at the end as Wanjiru had predicted a world record and conditions were perfect for such a time – light winds, hardly a cloud in the sky, and temperatures expected to rise no higher than 15 degrees.

But crazy early speed put paid to Wanjiru’s hopes as the pacemakers sped through half way in 61:35 after setting off inside two hour pace. They’d been asked to take the leaders to 20 miles, but could never maintain such a high tempo. Some thought a chance to make history had been thrown away. By the end, however, the win was enough for Wanjiru. “A course record is very good but in the end it was better to win the race because of all the good runners around me,” he said.

For the Eritrean debutant Zersenay Tadese it was a baptism of fire. The three-times world half marathon champion found the going too tough at the full distance and, after staying with the leaders through the first 25km, he dropped out at 35km.

Even without Lel, the three-times champion, who was forced to withdraw on the eve of the race with a sore right hip, the field leaving Greenwich was considered the greatest ever. Three Kenyan pacemakers, Elijah Keitany Kiplagat, Samuel Kosgei and John Kales, clocked 4:35 for the first mile. Tadese hung towards the back of a group of ten with Kenyan Emannuel Mutai, plus South Africa’s Hendrick Ramaala and Morocco’s Ridouane Harroufi (a 2:10 man at best).

By the third mile (5k: 14:06) they were already inside two hour pace and they passed 10km in a punishing 28:30, 40s quicker than Gebrselassie’s world record run in Berlin the previous September.

At this rate they would pass half way in one hour exactly. They slowed slightly, but at 15km were still up on Gebrselassie’s schedule at 43:12 and passed half way in 61:35, the fastest split in marathon history. They’d been asked to go through in 61:50, so this was great running.

The blistering pace soon took its toll, however, with mile splits drifting to 4:55, 4:59 and 5:00 through miles 14, 15 and 16. At 25km (1:13:35) they were still inside world record schedule and as the pacemakers slowed dramatically Ramaala pushed on, taking Wanjiru, Gharib and Kebede clear with a 4:37 surge for the 19th mile that left Tadese adrift.

Wanjiru made a burst as they headed towards Canary Wharf, followed immediately by Kebede with Gharib hanging on. Shortly after mile 20, Wanjiru made another bid for glory. Just as he had in Beijing the previous summer, the young Kenyan defied the swift early pace and kicked ahead, running 4:40 and 4:46 for the 20th and 21st miles.

Kebede gave chase but as they strode along the Embankment the Kenyan led by 20m. Each time Kebede closed, Wanjiru appeared to sense the threat and kick again. Glancing back, he turned the corner at the Houses of Parliament and put in another burst up Birdcage Walk. Finally, Kebede was broken.

“It was a tough race today,” said Wanjiru afterwards. “All the good runners around make you run well. It wasn’t until the last 200 metres or so that I had the feeling I was going to win.”

Mutai was fourth for the second year in a row in 2:06:53 while Ramaala, fifth in 2:07:44, capped a great return to form in the 25th marathon of his career.

Wanjiru’s victory was the sixth in a row for Kenya and made the east African nation the most successful in London Marathon history with one more men’s winner than Great Britain. The first Briton home this year was Andi Jones, 13th in 2:15:20.


The women’s race

Mikitenko makes it two in a row

Irina Mikitenko became the first woman since Paula Radcliffe in 2003 to retain her London Marathon title as she held off a spirited challenge from Britain’s Mara Yamauchi to win her third marathon and cement her place as the world number one.

The 36-year-old produced a commanding performance as she broke away from the field after 20 miles and crossed the line in 2:22:11, improving on her 2008 time by more than two minutes.

“I was always confident I had it in my legs and after 20 miles I saw no reason why I couldn’t win,” said the German record holder. “I felt once I pushed the pace a little the others wouldn’t follow.”

Yamauchi gave the record crowds much to cheer as she finished second in 2:23:12, taking nearly two minutes from her best, while the European 5000m record holder Liliya Shobukhova of Russia produced a debut run to remember, finishing third in 2:24:24. 

Mikitenko, who was forced to miss the Olympic Games with a back problem, destroyed all three Beijing medallists. Indeed, the Olympic champion Constantina Dita had a day to forget. Running her eighth London Marathon, the Romanian struggled to make an impact and dropped out at half way with a pain in her liver and breathing problems. 

Beijing silver medallist Catherine Ndereba again let the leaders get too far ahead and finished seventh in 2:26:22, while China’s Zhou Chunxiu, third in Beijing and London champion in 2006, struggled badly in the closing stages. She finished 12th in 2:29:02 after running with the leaders for the first 17 miles. 

Always present at the front of the field, Mikitenko made the most of the conditions, following the pacemaker, Aniko Kalovics, from the start. The Hungarian had been asked to run 71 minutes for the first half and she stuck to her task pretty well, going through 10km in 33:14 with a leading group of four – Yamauchi, Mikitenko, Zhou and the Japanese runner, Mika Okunaga. A second, featuring Ndereba, Shobukhova, and the Ethiopians Gete Wami and Berhane Adere, was 100m behind.

Mikitenko, wearing long white socks, made a break shortly before 20km (67:09), leaving Kalovics behind, her day’s work done. The champion crossed Tower Bridge followed by Yamauchi and Zhou, in her trademark white cap, and passed half way bang on pace at 1:10:53. The second group, now led by Ndereba, was a minute down, but with a lot of talented runners in the pack the race seemed far from over.

Zhou lost touch as the leading trio passed 17 miles, leaving Yamauchi to shadow Mikitenko as they wound through the Isle of Dogs and under the giant Canary Wharf tower.

At 30km (1:41:14) Mikitenko made her first push for victory but Yamauchi clung to her like an owner to an untamed dog. Each time the German appeared to open a small gap, the Briton dragged her back until, with her husband Alexander urging her on at the roadside, Mikitenko kicked in a 20th mile of 5:24.

That effort opened three or four metres which slowly grew to 10, then 15. After a 21st mile of 5:25 the champion and favourite was away and gone. At 35km Zhou was some 45 seconds back and fading badly with the chasing pack another minute and a half adrift.

A year earlier Mikitenko had saved her effort until mile 24, but this time she passed the Tower of London shortly after 22 miles getting stronger and stronger, with Yamauchi, 13 seconds back, cheered on by some of the biggest crowds ever seen on the London course.

Mikitenko powered on, down the Embankment towards Westminster. For the second year in a row she strode alone through Parliament Square, up Birdcage Walk and into The Mall to become the first woman to retain the London title for six years and joined an illustrious group of double London winners, including Joyce Smith, Ingrid Kristiansen, Katrin Dorre and Paula Radcliffe.

Shobukhova followed Yamauchi home, a superb debut from her, 42 seconds ahead of Zakharova who followed up her second place from 2008 with fourth this time. Adere was fifth ahead of a third Russian, Inga Abitova.


The men’s wheelchair race

Fearnley takes Weir’s record   

Australian Kurt Fearnley won his first London title in style beating the best field the wheelchair race has seen in many years. The Paralympic gold medallist was in great form to take David Weir’s 2008 title and his 2006 course record. 

The weather conditions were perfect and expectations high for a competitive race as Weir and South African Ernst Van Dyk broke away early from the leading pack. By seven miles, they were joined by Fearnley plus the 51-year-old world record holder Heinz Frei from Switzerland and at half way these four were already on pace to beat Weir’s 1:29:48 record.

Frei dropped back at 20 miles leaving Weir, Van Dyk and Fearnley to challenge for the number one spot. Van Dyk led the trio round the finishing corner with 600m to go, but the top sprinters Fearnley and Weir overtook him on the straight.

Fearnley crossed the line just ahead in a new course record of 1:28:56, with Weir just one second behind. The new Boston winner Van Dyk finished in 1:28:58.

The 28-year-old Fearnley was overjoyed with the triumph, having finished second in his previous two London Marathons. “I haven’t been in too many marathons where the finish was that close,” he said. “David was a tough challenger, but I was never going to let him get away. When it came to the last 200 metres, I kept thinking about the finish and pushed really hard.”

“I had a break after Beijing and I have had limited amounts of training,” said Weir. “At the end I didn’t have the little bit extra to fight for the win.”

Masazuma Soejima finished fourth (1:30:13) and Frei fifth (1:30:15) while another Briton, Brian Alldis came a creditable 10th in 1:40:15. 


The women’s wheelchair race

McGrory races to victory

American Amanda McGrory won the most exciting women’s wheelchair marathon, holding off defending champion Sandra Graf of Switzerland to take the title by one second in 1:50:39. Only seven seconds separated the top six women.

The 22-year-old McGrory had been second in 2008 and fourth in the previous weekend’s Boston Marathon. In Beijing she won silver, so was happy to finally win in London.

“I knew it was going to be a tactical race today,” said McGrory. “There was a pack of six when we started and there were still six fighting it out at the finish. After a rough time in Boston, I am happy today went well.”

The experienced Graf was more than content with second while debutante Diane Roy from Canada was third in 1:50:41, Switzerland’s Paralympic gold medallist Edith Hunkeler fourth another second behind and Christie Dawes of Australia fifth a second further back.

Briton Shelly Woods was hoping to repeat her 2007 victory, but with such a great field it was always going to be tough. She was still among the leaders as they entered the finishing straight but when McGrory broke free she had to be content with sixth in an impressive time of 1:50:46.