Report21 Apr 2024

Jepchirchir breaks women-only world marathon record in London


Peres Jepchirchir wins the London Marathon (© Bob Martin for London Marathon Events)

Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir smashed the women-only world record by 45 seconds at the TCS London Marathon, winning the World Athletics Platinum Label road race in 2:16:16* on Sunday (21).

In what was widely regarded as one of the deepest and highest-quality women’s fields ever assembled, the three-time world half marathon champion sprinted away from world record-holder Tigist Assefa, 2021 London winner Joyciline Jepkosgei and last year’s runner-up Megertu Alemu – all of whom finished inside 2:17 – to notch up her third victory in a World Marathon Majors race.

Jepchirchir’s compatriot Alexander Mutiso Munyao made it a Kenyan double, winning the men’s race in 2:04:01 to defeat Ethiopian distance legend Kenenisa Bekele by 14 seconds.

No secret had been made of the fact that breaking Mary Keitany’s women-only world record of 2:17:01 was the big target for the women’s race. With that at the forefront of their minds, a lead pack comprising all the big contenders soon detached themselves from the rest of the field and blazed through the first 5km in 15:44 – comfortably inside 2:13 pace.

They maintained that tempo through 10km, covered in 31:26, and at this point they were 67 seconds ahead of Ethiopia’s Tsige Haileslase, the closest challenger to the lead pack.

The front group – which included Assefa alongside past London winners Jepkosgei, Yalemzerf Yehualaw and Brigid Kosgei – got to 15km in 47:37. Soon after, Sheila Chepkirui – the runner-up in Berlin last year – started to drift off the pack.

Not long after passing the drinks station at the 20km point, 2019 world champion Ruth Chepngetich lost contact with the leaders. It meant that just seven women remained in the pack as they reached the half-way point in 1:07:04 – the second-fastest half-way split ever recorded in London, and putting them on schedule to smash the women-only world record by almost three minutes.

Kosgei was the next to drift back, and with the pacemakers having done their job, it left six women out in front: Jepchirchir, Assefa, training partner and Dubai marathon champion Tigist Ketema, 2022 London winner Yehualaw, 2021 London champion Jepkosgei, and 2023 London runner-up Megertu Alemu.

The sextet ran together through 25km (1:19:38) and 17 miles, but Ketema and Yehualaw were unable to hold on for much further and started to lose contact, leaving four women – Assefa, Jepchirchir, Jepkosgei and Alemu – to battle it out for the three podium places.

The difference between 25km and 30km, 16:18, was the slowest 5km section of the race. The lead quartet was either starting to feel the effects of their early efforts, or they were starting to bide their team for an anticipated surge in the closing stages.

With 1:44 on the clock, the four leading women managed to navigate their way around the two lead vehicles that had been forced to stop due to a wheelchair racer who was experiencing some technical difficulties.

Assefa and Jepchirchir both took turns testing the waters by making subtle surges to see how their opponents would respond, but their overall pace continued to drop and they reached 35km in 1:52:48, putting them on course for a 2:16 finish.

They passed 40km in 2:09:13, still running side by side. It was clear that no one else other than these four would be claiming places on the podium, but predicting a winner – and, indeed, the athlete who’d miss out on the podium – was still impossible with less than two kilometres to go.

As the clock ticked to 2:15, with little more than a minute of running left, Alemu was finally dropped. Seconds later, Jepchirchir unleashed her trademark finish to leave behind Jepkosgei and Assefa.

The diminutive Kenyan charged through the finish line in 2:16:16, finishing seven seconds ahead of Assefa. Jepkosgei (2:16:24) and Alemu (2:16:34) followed soon after, making this the first marathon in which four women have finished inside 2:17.

Jepchirchir will now turn her attention to defending her Olympic title in Paris in less than four months’ time where she’ll aim to become the first ever back-to-back women’s marathon gold medallist in the history of the Games.

The men’s race played out in similar fashion with a surprisingly large group remaining together into the second half before the final few contenders were left to battle it out in the closing stages.

Alexander Mutiso Munyao wins the London Marathon

Alexander Mutiso Munyao wins the London Marathon (© Getty Images)

The late Kelvin Kiptum’s world (2:00:35) and course (2:01:25) records were not being targeted by the elite men, but a lead pack of 12 nevertheless set off as a respectable pace, going through 5km in 14:35 and 10km in 29:03.

They remained together through 15km (58:20) with the likes of Munyao, Bekele, 2022 world champion Tamirat Tola and 2021 Chicago winner Seifu Tura all in the lead pack.

They reached half way in 1:01:29 with 10 men still running together, more than 80 seconds ahead of Britain’s Emile Cairess, who was running alone in 13th place. France’s Hassan Chahdi soon drifted off the lead pack, and eight men were in the pack at the 30km point (1:27:20).

With 1:30 on the clock, big changes started to happen. The lead pack was down to five men: Munyao, Bekele, Tola, Ethiopia’s Dawit Wolde and compatriot Milkesa Mengesha.  Less than 10 minutes later, Tola and Wolde had dropped back, leaving Bekele, Munyao and Mengesha as the lead trio. Mengesha lasted five more minutes before he, too, succumbed to the pace, unable to stick with Munyao and the 41-year-old Bekele.

Just before the clock ticked over to 1:55, Munyao finally dropped multiple world and Olympic gold medallist Bekele, who was visibly struggling to match the Kenyan’s pace.

Munyao maintained his lead to the finish, eventually winning in 2:04:01 to Bekele’s 2:04:15, the fastest time ever by an athlete over the age of 40.

With several of the leading contenders dropping out in the closing stages, Cairess came through to take third place in 2:06:46 ahead of fellow Briton Mahamed Mahamed, who clocked 2:07:05, both setting huge PBs.

Leading results

1 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) 2:16:16
2 Tigist Assefa (ETH) 2:16:23
3 Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) 2:16:24
4 Megertu Alemu (ETH) 2:16:34
5 Brigid Kosgei (KEN) 2:19:02
6 Sheila Chepkirui (KEN) 2:19:31
7 Tigist Ketema (ETH) 2:23:21
8 Yalemzerf Yehualaw (ETH) 2:23:26
9 Ruth Chepngetich (KEN) 2:24:36
10 Tsige Haileslase (ETH) 2:25:03

1 Alexander Mutiso Munyao (KEN) 2:04:01
2 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 2:04:15
3 Emile Cairess (GBR) 2:06:46
4 Mahamed Mahamed (GBR) 2:07:05
5 Hassan Chahdi (FRA) 2:07:30
6 Henok Tesfay (ERI) 2:09:22
7 Hendrik Pfeiffer (GER) 2:10:00
8 Kinde Atanaw (ETH) 2:10:03
9 Johannes Motschmann (GER) 2:10:39
10 Brian Schrader (USA) 2:10:50

*Subject to the usual ratification procedure

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