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LONDON — On an emotional day for Paula Radcliffe who ran the final marathon of her illustrious career here, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia won the elite races at the 35th Virgin Money London Marathon. Kipchoge, a highly decorated former world champion, and Tufa, who had only recently risen to the top echelon of marathon running, both prevailed in tactical races on a cool and humid day.
Organizers here promoted the “Fabulous Four” top athletes in the women’s race: Kenyans Mary Keitany, Florence Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat (no relation) and Priscah Jeptoo. Indeed, Keitany, Edna Kiplagat and Jeptoo had combined to win the last four London Marathons, and odds-makers had Keitany, last November’s TCS New York City Marathon champion, as the pre-race favorite.
But that mattered little to Tufa, 28, who won marathons in Ottawa (2:24:31) and Shanghai (2:21:52 PB) last year. She was also running to win.
“I was planning to win because I did very hard training,” Tufa told the media after the race through a translator. “I was working very hard to get a good time.”
In the early going, the contenders essentially ignored the two designated pacemakers, running well behind them for most of the first half. The pacers, Peres Jepchirchir and Rebecca Kangogo Chesir of Kenya, crossed the half-way split in 1:11:39 with the contenders three seconds behind in a tight pack of nine. The “Fabulous Four” were all in the lead pack, along with Ethiopians Tufa, Tirfi Tsegaye, and Aselefech Mergia; Kenyan Jemima Sumgong; and Moroccan Rkia El Moukim. The pace was solid, but not fast by London standards, putting the winner on track to run just inside of 2:24.
The five kilometers through 25K were passed in 17:23, a pace gentle enough to allow some of the lower-seeded elite women to catch up. Spectators were treated to an unusual sight for this race: a big women’s lead pack of 13 at 25K, which would only whittle to 11 by 30K (1:42:36) when Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix was on the front.
Edna Kiplagat was the first to drift off the back of the lead and out of contention (she would finish 11th), and Felix and El Moukim started to let go just after 35K. That left seven women in contention: Tufa, Tsegaye, Mergia, Florence Kiplagat, Sumgong, Jeptoo and Keitany.
In the 38th kilometer, 2:06:30 into the race, Tufa shot to the front with Tsegaye. Mergia gave chase, but quickly fell back to the main group. Soon, Tsegaye also had to let go, leaving Tufa running alone along the bank of the Thames. The petite athlete scorched the 5 kilometers from 35K to 40K in 16:14, and had an insurmountable 11 second lead at the 40K mark.
“I was planning to be ready to be tough,” Tufa said.
Running up The Mall over the final 200 meters alone, she broke the tape next to St. James’s park in 2:23:22, becoming only the second Ethiopian woman to win this race after Derartu Tulu in 2001.
“Yes I know Derartu Tulu won here,” Tufa told reporters. “I was planning to win as well because this is a very big race and a very good race to run.”
Keitany, who won here in 2011 and 2012, was disappointed, but accepted defeat with grace.
“Maybe it did not go the way I wanted,” she said in her high-pitched voice. “Tigist was more powerful at the last.”
Keitany clocked 2:23:40 for second, Tsegaye was one second behind in third, and Mergia (2:23:53) and Florence Kiplagat (2:24:15) rounded out the top-5.
Kipchoge Wins Chess Match With Kipsang
Unlike the women, the men chose to follow their pacemakers right from the gun, and the pack took off from Blackheath at a rapid clip. Pacemakers Edwin Kipyego and Wilfred Murgor, both of Kenya, clicked through 10K in 29:14, 20K in 59:01, and the halfway point in 62:19. The only contender who was dropped was two-time TCS New York City Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai, who would step off the course before 25K. That left a healthy group of nine contenders: Kenyans Kipchoge, Wilson Kipsang, Sammy Kitwara, Dennis Kimetto, and Emmanuel Mutai; Ethiopians Tilahun Regassa and Tsegaye Mekonnen; and Eritrean Samuel Tsegaye.
“I think the pace was really nice,” Kipsang said after the race. “We tried to makes sure we run fast. Our objective was to run a course record.”
By 30K (1:28:56), Emmanuel Mutai and Mekonnen had been dropped, leaving only six contenders: Kimetto, Kipchoge, Biwott, Regassa, Kipsang and Kitwara. Kipchoge assessed the situation, and was feeling confident after winning both the Rotterdam and Chicago Marathons last year.
“Experience is the best teacher,” he intoned.
So, when Kipsang put in a strong move at about 36K, Kipchoge covered it immediately, leaving the two men alone at the front to fight for the win. Each athlete quickly assessed their chances.
“The way he looked, I tried to keep a close watch on him,” Kipsang said of Kipchoge. “I saw he had more fear than me.”
The pair were side by side just before 40K (1:58:29), when Kipchoge reached for his personal bottle with his right hand and also put in a quick surge. Kipsang skipped his drink, held back momentarily, then caught back up. The Kenyan pair went through the 25th mile in a blistering 4:33, but Kipchoge wasn’t finished showing his speed. With about 650 meters to go, he made one last effort to break Kipsang.
“We look at each other for 40 kilometers,” said Kipchoge of Kipsang. “I had to turn and look at his face and I had to go.”
Kipchoge opened a five-second gap, and Kipsang was unable to close it. Kipchoge got his fourth marathon victory in five starts, winning here in 2:04:42, the third-fastest winning time here. Kipsang crossed in 2:04:47, the fastest-ever second place finish here.
“I believe in the philosophy whereby they say winning is not important, but how to prepare to win is important,” Kipchoge told reporters. “The one who prepared very well is the one who wins.”
Kimetto (2:05:50), Biwott (2:06:41) and Regassa (2:07:16) rounded out the top 5.
Radcliffe Waves Goodbye
World record holder Paula Radcliffe completed the final marathon of her career in fine form, despite a sore Achilles. Running in the mass race she clocked an unexpectedly fast 2:36:55, helped by the constant cheers from the crowd along the course
“London is about giving the best on the day,” said Radcliffe who briefly held the hand of another runner, Robert Danson, on her way to the finish tape. She added: “There’s magic about it.”