LONDON — Even without a world record or an Olympic title to his name, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge has put together a record befitting the title of the greatest male marathon-runner of all-time. With his second victory in the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday in the second fastest time of history of 2:03:05, the 31-year-old has extended his win-loss record to six wins from seven starts. He has run 2:05:30 or faster each time and the average time of his five fastest marathons comes out at 2:04:01—a time which would have stood as the world record as recently as a decade ago.
In the end, Kipchoge came within eight seconds of the record which currently stands to Dennis Kimetto at 2:02:57 and that record might have been bettered this morning if the conditions cooperated.
“Half the race, we were running against the wind but it was okay,” said Kipchoge when questioned about the conditions by Tim Hutchings during the post-race press conference. “I can’t complain because all of us were facing the same problem.”
Not for the first time, the elite men went out at a furious pace with pacemakers Cosmos Lagat and Gideon Kipketer towing an initial group of nine through 5K in 14:16 and 10K in 28:37, close to two hour-pace for the distance. Kipchoge wasn’t fazed.
“Yes, I knew,” said Kipchoge when asked if he realized he was on such a terrific pace. “I saw the splits.”
The projected winning time began to slow through the second quarter with 15K and 20K reached in 43:17 and 58:10, respectively. A world record hasn’t been set in the men’s race in the London Marathon since 2002, and while this remained an unlikely prospect with so many runners still in contention, the halfway split of 61:24 this morning was the fastest in marathon history by three seconds.
At this point, Kimetto had drifted six seconds off the leading pack while course record-holder Wilson Kipsang, who fell at a drinks station around the 10K mark, and world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie from Eritrea both found the pace too much by the 25K checkpoint in 1:12:39.
“It was a good race and I felt OK. I fell down at 10K and the leg was getting painful [sic] after 25K,” Kipsang later tweeted.
The last pacemaker dropped out shortly afterwards with three athletes still in contention: Kipchoge, New York Marathon winner Stanley Biwott, and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele who was in the process of staging a popular return to form after eighteen months of persistent injuries. Bekele surprised reporters by saying he has only managed less than two months’ training before this race but his abbreviated build-up started to become apparent, as he lost ground on the Kenyans just before the 30K checkpoint in a pending world record of 1:27:13.
In contrast, Kimetto passed the same checkpoint in 1:27:38 in the German capital two years ago but thoughts in London at this point began to turn to the victory rather than the time: the 21st, 22nd and 23rd miles of 4:51, 4:47 and 4:50 were among the slowest of the race as Kipchoge and Biwott ran shoulder-to-shoulder for the most part.
But Kipchoge cranked up the pace again with a 25th mile in 4:38 to break away from Biwott. The reigning champion has no aspirations to move back to the track but Kipchoge dug up some of his noted track speed in the closing stages, covering the last 2.2 kilometers in one of the fastest splits in history of 6:16.
Kipchoge broke the tape in 2:03:05 and even though he put his hands to his face when he crossed the finish-line, Kipchoge wasn’t frustrated by his near miss.
“I realized I was a few seconds off the world record. It was not really disappointment,” he said on that gesture.
Biwott also joined the sub-2:04 club in second in 2:03:51 while Bekele concluded his return to shape by reaching the podium in third in 2:06:36.
“Running fast at the beginning was really tough for me,” said Bekele, who was only at ninety percent fitness heading into this race.
Ghebreslassie was next across the line in 2:07:46 while Kimetto, who finished third last year, drifted back to ninth in 2:11:44.
The top American in the race was Ruben Sanca, who placed eighth among all runners not in the elite field in 2:21:28. (His time was the 32nd fastest of the day.) The No. 2 American runner was Michael Wardian, who ran a 2:27:37 just six days after running a 2:31 at the Boston Marathon. The 42-year-old Arlington, Va., resident is on a quest to run all six World Marathon Majors in 2016.
Sumgong Falls, Recovers To Post Biggest Win To Date
Jemima Sumgong has been the perennial bridesmaid in Abbott World Marathon Majors races with runner-up finishes in the Boston, New York and Chicago Marathons to her name, and that banner win seemed an improbability with about eight kilometers remaining when she found herself thrown to the ground along with past winners Mary Keitany from Kenya and Aselefech Mergia from Ethiopia. Mergia appeared to clip Sumgong from behind, while Keitany fell separately.
Out of the three fallers, Sumgong seemed to come off the worst as she repeatedly held her head in pursuit of the chasers, but she was the only runner from the triumvirate to regain contact. And once she did, she ran with real intent: after a succession of slower miles in the 5:30-5:40 range, Sumgong assumed the lead and covered the 23rd, 24th and 25th miles in 5:15, 5:13 and 5:16 respectively.
World champion Mare Dibaba initially followed but toiled badly in the closing stages and wound up sixth in 2:24:09 but last year’s surprise winner Tigist Tufa put up a staunch defense of her title in a race which unfolded in a similar manner to last year with a large pack still involved in the latter stages.
Sumgong’s 25th mile of 5:16 drew a small gap over Tufa and while her gap wasn’t decisive, the Ethiopian couldn’t get back onto level terms with Sumgong. Sumgong lost out in the Boston Marathon in 2012 by two seconds and the New York Marathon in 2014 by four seconds but it was the 31-year-old’s day in London as she crossed the finish-line 2:22:58 to Tufa’s 2:23:05.
World half marathon record-holder Florence Kiplagat complained about blisters in the closing stages but notched up another podium finish in third in 2:23:39 while former international race walker Volha Mazuronak from Belarus ran a big negative second half split of 70:35 to claim fourth in a PB of 2:23:54 ahead of Mergia (2:23:57) and Dibaba (2:24:09). Improbably, Mazuronak ran the fastest last 2.195 K of the race: 7:08.
Keitany didn’t arrive in London in her very best shape and looked to be losing touch once or twice before she fell. That fall ultimately put paid to her chances of her third title as she faded back to ninth in 2:28:30.
Two months after dropping out of the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, Sara Hall had a much more positive experience at the distance in 12th in a lifetime best of 2:30:06. She was the only U.S. runner in the elite field.