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Race report 2015

Men’s race report: Kipchoge denies Kipsang in thrilling finish

In a thrilling sprint finish, the former 5000m world champion and London debutant surged ahead of his countryman and reigning champion, Wilson Kipsang, in the final mile of the race to win in 2:04:42. Kipsang finished just yards behind in 2:04:47.

Kipchoge’s winning time was just 13 seconds outside the London course record of 2:04:29, set by Kipsang in 2014, but he wasn’t racing for a time today, he was racing for glory.

“It was a tough race today but my training paid off and everything went to plan,” he said afterwards. “When the pace picked up at 30km I felt comfortable. The crowds were wonderful and lifted me for the sprint finish.”

Billed as the ‘Clash of the Champions’, today’s 35th edition of the London Marathon featured the greatest men’s field ever assembled, with five of the world’s all-time top 10 and eight men who have run sub 2:05.

With such class in the field, the world’s fastest men began at a quick pace, with a group of 10 forming behind the two Kenyan pacemakers, Wilfred Murgor and Edwin Kipyego.

The leading group featured seven top Kenyan runners – Kipchoge, Kipsang, Dennis Kimetto, Stanley Biwott, Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai and Samuel Kitwara – along with the Ethiopians Tsegaye Mekonnen and Tilahun Regassa, and Eritrea’s Samuel Tsegay.

The men made the most of a downhill section of the course in the first few miles to go through 5K in 14:31 – at course-record pace – but the pace then settled, with the 10 east Africans going through 10K in 29:14, cheered by amazing crowds as they passed the glorious sight of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. Tucked in behind the pacemakers, the men took turns at the front, checking each other out but with no one ready to make a move.

Stanley Biwott, runner-up in last year’s race, led the group through 15K in 44:04 – bang on schedule for Kipsang’s course record.

Geoffrey Mutai was the first victim of the quick pace, slipping back as they headed across Tower Bridge and past the 20K point. The 2011 New York Marathon champion drifted off the back of the group, before dropping out just after half way.

With just nine men still in contention, the pacemakers glanced at their watches as the leading men headed along Narrow Street in Wapping, perhaps sensing that the pace was slipping a little. Kipchoge led the group, just a stride behind the pacers with Kipsang hanging towards the back.

Emmanuel Mutai and Samuel Tsegay were the next men to drop out of the leading group as they reached the 15-mile point. Mutai was London Marathon champion in 2011 and has tackled the course seven times ahead of today, but could not find his best form when it mattered, eventually finishing 10th in 2:10:54. Tsegay dropped out of the race soon after the 25km point; a disappointing day for the Eritrean.

The young Ethiopian Mekonnen was the next to drop off the pace, leaving just six men in the group as they went through 25K in 1:14:03.

Kipchoge and Kimetto moved to the front with Kipsang and Kitwara a pace behind and Biwott and Regassa at the back, all still looking relaxed.

Former Rotterdam champion Regassa put in a surge but everyone responded as the group of six passed beneath Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers to reach the 30K point in 1:28:56. For the first time in the race, reigning champion Kipsang moved to the front and pushed the pace a little, resulting in a slightly faster mile of 4:51 for mile 20.

There was nothing to choose between them as six men spread out across the road in a single line, matching each other stride for stride, but once past the 35km point, which they passed in 1:44:02, Kitwara dropped off the pace to reduce the leading group to five men. The 2014 Chicago Marathon runner-up went to on to finish sixth in 2:07:43.

The remaining five headed along The Highway and towards the finish, the masses passing on the other side of the road giving them a huge cheer.

A couple of slower miles put the course record out of reach and looked to be playing into the hands of the former track champion, Kipchoge, who put in a surge that detached Regassa and, briefly, Kimetto. The world recod holder got back in touch, but the acceleration ended Regassa’s hopes, and the 25-year-old Ethiopian went on to finish in fifth in 2:07:16.

Four men were left to battle for three medals as they headed past the Tower of London and into the final few miles of the race.

Kipsang and Kipchoge made their move as they dipped out of sight beneath an underpass emerging with a 20-metre lead over Biwott and Kimetto that gradually grew along the Embankment.

Both front-runners looked supremely focussed, despite a 2:48 kilometre to reach the 40km mark in 1:58:29. Kipchoge made a move but could only manage to get a stride ahead before Kipsang was back alongside him as the pair turned to pass Big Ben.

Back in 2013, Kipchoge finished runner-up to Kipsang at the Berlin Marathon but he was not prepared to let history repeat itself today.

With 650m to go Kipchoge accelerated again, putting in a surge that turned out to be the decisive move of the race. Unable to respond, Kipsang dropped behind, first 5m then more as Buckingham Palace came into view.

Now Kipchoge’s win was never in any doubt. He strode ahead to break the tape in triumph.

The first Briton home was Scott Overall. The Blackheath & Bromley runner finished in 13th place in 2:13:13.

Women’s race report: Tufa breaks Kenyan stranglehold to take win for Ethiopia

Tigist Tufa tore up the prediction book at the Virgin Money London Marathon today to hand Ethiopia its first women’s win at the 35-year-old event since the great Derartu Tulu won in 2001.

It was billed as a battle between Kenya’s ‘fantastic four’, but Tufa delivered a shock to the favourites when she grabbed the topsy-turvy race by the scruff of its neck with a devastating burst between 35 and 40K that ripped apart a nine-strong group containing two-times London winner Mary Keitany and world half marathon record holder Florence Kiplagat.

Tufa threw in a 24th mile of 5:05 to pull clear of the pack and strode home alone to win in 2:23:22, only the second Ethiopian ever to take the women’s crown.

“I knew Derartu had won here in the past, and I was planning to follow her and win as well,” said the 28-year-old. “This is a very, very big race and a great place to run.

“The last four years I have worked hard to be here and to be in the top three, so I am very grateful to have won today.”

Keitany won the battle for the runner-up spot with a sprint finish over Tirfi Tsegaye, the New York champion crossing the line one second in front in 2:23:40, while this year’s Dubai Marathon champion Aselefech Mergia capped a great day for Ethiopia by finishing fourth ahead of Florence Kiplagat who couldn’t match her second place from 12 months ago.

As for her namesake, Edna, the defending and two-times world champion never featured at the head of the field. The 35-year-old lost touch with the fluctuating lead group in the second half, eventually finishing 11th in 2:27:16, almost seven minutes slower than her winning time here 12 months ago.

Tufa won the Shanghai Marathon last year but has never featured highly in a World Marathon Majors race, her previous best being eighth in New York in 2013. But today she broke a Kenyan stranglehold on the London title that stretches back over four years.

Indeed, the Kenyans dominated the pre-race publicity and Kiplagat even suggested at their press conference on Wednesday that Paula Radcliffe’s women-only world record could come under threat on the day of the Briton’s last ever performance.

In the event, the gusty weather put paid to that and soon after the start it quickly became clear that the leading contenders were here to race not chase times.

London’s first women’s winner Joyce Smith pressed the big red button to get the contest underway, and a field containing nine sub-2:22 performers set off from Blackheath, many of them wearing hats and gloves to ward off the cold on a damp and windy morning in the British capital.

Edna Kiplagat opted for bright yellow arm-warmers and she soon settled in at the back of the leading group of nine, led by pacemakers Peres Jepchirchir and Rebecca Chesir, whose task was to take them through half way at around 69:15.

Among those who tucked in behind them were five Kenyans – the two Kiplagats, Keitany, 2013 champion Priscah Jeptoo and New York Marathon runner-up Jemima Sumgong – plus the three Ethiopians, and one former Ethiopian, Turkey’s former world 5000m record holder Elvan Abeylegesse.

They ran the first mile in 5:40, around 2:28 pace, and some way off Radcliffe’s first mile of 5:03. Keitany, for one, was never going to let that last for long and it was the diminutive Kenyan – many pundits’ pre-race favourite – who picked up the pace, taking the pack through the first 5K in 16:54.

The first casualty was Abeylegesse who slipped back when Mergia stepped up to tuck in behind the pacers. The tall Ethiopian discarded her gloves and kicked in a 5:11 fifth mile to open a brief gap. It seemed the Dubai champion meant business in London and she led the pack through 10K in 33:22, five seconds behind the pacers.

That pattern of fluctuating speed continued to 15K, passed in 50:53, with the pacemakers eight seconds ahead, and 20K (68:05), as a first half of uneven and unspectacular running went by in 71:42, two and a half minutes outside their schedule.

All the slowing and speeding meant the group soon swelled and suddenly it was Ana Dulce Felix at the front, the Portuguese athlete finding herself in an unexpected position, dictating the pace as they strode through the Docklands.

All this time, Edna Kiplagat had been tucked out of sight at the back, and she finally slipped behind as Felix took them through 30K in 1:42:36. Morocco’s Rkia El Moukim then took a turn at the front as the favourites continued to play cat and mouse.

No one seemed prepared to make a move, and eight passed 35K together in 1:59:58 before Tsegaye finally broke the deadlock, taking Tufa clear of Mergia, Keitany, Florence Kiplagat and Jeptoo.

The pair opened a 50m gap with a 23rd mile of 5:19, but it was Tufa who had the edge. She gestured for her compatriot to keep up, but Tsegaye was finished.

Tufa has misjudged her races in the past – most recently in Dubai this January when she blew up in the closing stages after taking a big lead. But in London she timed her move to perfection, stretching out along the Embankment to create an 11-second gap on Keitany, Tsegaye and Mergia.

She swept past Big Ben and around St James’s Park to cross the Finish Line on The Mall in 2:23:22, her arms aloft in celebration of the biggest win of her life.

“I am very, very happy because I beat the world’s top athletes,” she said. “I was working to get a good time, but it was not about fast times today, and I saved myself to try very hard from the last 5K.”

Sonia Samuels was the first Briton home in 16th place, clocking 2:31:46, while Radcliffe rolled home with the leading club runners to clock 2:36:55, 10 years and nine days after setting that spectacular course record.