Tsegaye Kebede after his commanding victory in London (© Getty Images)
Tsegaye Kebede turned silver to gold in London this morning as the 2009 runner-up triumphed in a drizzly Virgin London Marathon while Liliya Shobukhova became the first Russian ever to win the women’s race when she added the London title to her 2009 Chicago Marathon victory.
Kebede, who has won Olympic and World bronze medals in the last two years, took his first World Marathon Majors victory in some style at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race, crossing the line with more than a minute to spare become the first non-Kenyan winner since his fellow Ethiopian Gezahegne Abera triumphed here in 2003.
"I was second last year, so it is good to win this year," said Kebede, who clocked 2:05:19. "Maybe next year I could run 2:04. I thought I could get the course record but the rain made it difficult."
World silver medallist Emmanuel Mutai of Kenya had to be satisfied with second again, in 2:06:23, with the evergreen Moroccan Jaouad Gharib third for the second year in a row in 2:06:55.
DNFs for defenders Wanjiru and Mikitenko
After second here last year, and a storming victory in Fukuoka last December, Kebede’s win was hardly a surprise. Indeed, the defending champion, Sammy Wanjiru, said on Friday that if he didn’t win, Kebede was the man to watch.
But he didn’t predict the big shock which came when he dropped out at around 27km with a right knee problem, the first time in six marathons he has failed to finish.
"I was confident about winning but you can’t predict the body," he said. "I started to feel pain about 20km and it became very serious. I was thinking about hanging on and finishing in the top 10 but I didn’t want to make it any worse."
Irina Mikitenko, the defending women’s champion, also failed to finish - also in her sixth marathon. The German dropped out with a shin injury after 11 miles, while Britain’s Mara Yamauchi, second last year, fell off the pace just before half-way and finished 10th in 2:26:16, the trials of her much-publicised journey to London clearly taking its toll.
By contrast, Shobukhova, third in 2009, never looked troubled as she led the field for much of the race before pulling away from her compatriot Inga Abitova in the final mile to win in 2:22:00, a personal best by all of two minutes 24 seconds.
Abitova made it a great day for Russia as she finished second in 2:22:19, beating her PB by more than three minutes, while the World championships bronze medallist Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia was third, another 19 seconds behind, nearly two and a half minutes inside her previous best.
Kebede exuding confidence - men’s race
Wanjiru’s problems started just before half way. Twelve months ago the leading men went through in 61:35, the quickest split ever in a marathon. This time they’d planned to hit the half in 62:00 but the pacemakers had taken it easy, clocking 63:06 with no fewer than 12 on their heels.
The Kenyans were living up to their promise to run as a team and, as the pace picked up through mile 14 (4:39) and 15 (4:39), Wanjiru ran alongside Mutai, plus World champion Abel Kirui, and the world’s second quickest ever, Duncan Kibet.
Mutai and Kirui drove on towards Docklands but as the pace lifted again, Wanjiru began to feel his pain, and Tadese, the World Half Marathon record holder, started to struggle. By mile 16, the group was down to five with Kirui and Mutai leading Kebede and then Gharib, followed by the surprise in the pack, Abderrahime Bouramdane. The Moroccan’s best of 2:08:20 was under significant threat.
It was Kebede and Kirui who took the lead as they went through 30km in 1:28:46 - a 10km split of 28:52. They were now running at 2:05-pace and just inside course record schedule.
These two opened a gap on Mutai as they wound through London’s Docklands under the Canary Wharf tower.
A year ago, Kebede had battled Wanjiru over the last eight miles. This time, it was Kirui who emerged as his main rival. But with a swift 20th mile (4:28) Kebede made his move. Maintaining his punchy, compact style the 23-year-old kicked away and by 35km (1:43:30) he had a seven-second lead.
Now he not only had Wanjiru’s title in his sights but his course record too. He ran hard through miles 22 (4:55), 23 (4:51) and 24 (4:46) building an unassailable lead as he swept down to the Embankment for the lone, glorious run to the line.
As he turned into the The Mall he spotted the finish line ahead of him and made a last sprint for Wanjiru’s record. It wasn’t to be, those slow early miles proving too much to overcome. He crossed the line as the third quickest ever at London, behind Wanjiru and Martin Lel, missing his PB by just one second.
"I had to make the pace on my own at the end," he said. "The pacemakers were not good, so I am happy to run 2:05 on a day like today."
Behind him, Kirui blew up in the last mile and a half and was passed by Mutai, who improved from fourth in 2008 and 2009 to take second, with the remarkable Gharib third again.
"When Kebede pushed I was left behind," said Mutai. "I couldn’t go with him, so I focused on getting on the podium. I have finished fourth twice, so I am very pleased to be second at last."
As for Gharib, he had to overcome stomach problems. "I was aiming to do better," he said. "But after the problems I had I’m happy with the result."
Bouramdane smashed his PB to take fourth in 2:07:33, 47 seconds inside his previous best, while Kirui limped home in fifth in 2:08:04. The sad Tadese jogged home for his first marathon finish - seventh place in 2:12:03.
Shobukhova takes advantage of ‘almost perfect’ conditions - women’s race
With the temperature at 10 degrees and winds light to non-existent, the conditions were pretty good for marathon running when the women set off. Indeed, in contrast to the men, who complained that the unexpected rain had slowed them down, Shobukhova described the conditions as "almost perfect".
No fewer than 17 athletes had asked to be taken out at 2:22 pace and the experienced Hungarian Aniko Kalovics set about her pacemaking task with determination, clipping through the first couple of miles in 5:25.
Mergia, Mikitenko, and Yamauchi all showed early at the head of the large group alongside Shobukhova but after just two miles the Olympic champion, Constantina Dita, was already 100m behind the leaders, just over 20s adrift. She eventually finished 50th.
Shobukhova’s compatriot, Mariya Konovalova, was also struggling, while 2006 champion, Deena Kastor, was six seconds back, a gap which grew to 33s at 10km, a point passed by the leaders in 33:17.
By mile nine it was clear the defending champion had already lost her title. Mikitenko was 50 metres behind, suffering with a shin injury. She stopped and started three times before eventually dropping out at mile 11, saying afterwards, "My shin hurts now, but my head hurts more."
At 15km (50:10) the lead group numbered 13, with Yamauchi still leading the pack behind Kalovics. The World champion Bai Xue, and World silver medallist, Yoshimi Ozaki, were both in the hunt too, looking comfortable.
Shobukhova made her first move as they crossed Tower Bridge and strode towards half way, passed in 1:10:56, bang on schedule. Kalovics’ job now done, the lead group quickly shrunk to seven with Shobukhova pushing the pace alongside Mergia, followed by Bai, the Ethiopians Askale Tafa and Bezunesh Bekele, the Japanese pair Mari Ozaki and Yukiko Akaba, and Abitova, who was quietly making her presence felt.
They passed 25km in 1:24:04, and as they twisted through the Docklands it became clear the tall Russian was running with real intent, her compact style and low stride looking smooth and efficient. At 30km (1:41:08) she was still striding at 2:22 pace.
Ozaki and Bai began to fall off the pace as Shobukhova turned west again and the race was now down to four - Russia versus Ethiopia. Mergia made a move, forcing ahead of the Russian, as she clocked 5:18 for mile 23 - the quickest of the race so far.
But Shobukhova had plenty in reserve. She locked onto the Ethiopian’s heels for a mile as Bekele now dropped behind. The two leaders ran together under the tunnel at Southwark Bridge and on towards to the Embankment with Abitova close behind.
But Shobukhova was merely gathering herself for the final push. As the rain returned it was the Russian who upped the pace. She is the European record holder over 5000m and has plenty of track speed when she needs it.
She turned off the Embankment with a 30m lead and, in front of massive crowds, strode on up past the Houses of Parliament, along Birdcage Walk and into the The Mall to become the first Russian to win in London since Yakov Tolstikov took the men’s title in 1991 for the Soviet Union.
After finishing third here 12 months ago, Shobukhova completed a wonderful first year as a marathon runner with her second World Marathon Majors victory.
"The pace was easy," she said. "I felt comfortable running at the front and decided to push in the second half to break up the pack. It is my third marathon and my second win. Now I want to win the Olympics."
"My race was amazing," said Abitova, the reigning European 10,000m champion. "I had to work really hard but I know I have good track speed and that helped me break through at the finish."
Ethiopia filled places four and five, through Bekele and Tafa, while Britain’s favourite, Yamauchi had to accept her fate. "I just wasn’t as prepared as I was last year," said Yamauchi. "I think my journey to get here tired me out more than I thought."
Matthew Brown for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Tsegaye Kebede, ETH 2:05:19
2. Emmanuel Mutai, KEN 2:06:23
3. Jouad Gharib, MAR 2:06:55
4. Abderrahime Bouramdane, MAR 2:07:33
5. Abel Kirui, KEN 2:08:04
6. Marilson Gomes dos Santos, BRA 2:08:46
7. Zersenay Tadese, ERI 2:12:03
8. Andrew Lemoncello, GBR 2:13:40
9. Yonas Kifle, ERI 2:14:39
10. Andi Jones, GBR 2:16:38
1. Liliya Shobukhova, RUS 2:22:00
2. Inga Abitova, RUS 2:22:19
3. Aselefech Mergia, ETH 2:22:38
4. Bezunesh Bekele, ETH 2:23:17
5. Askale Tafa, ETH 2:24:39
6. Yukiko Akaba, JPN 2:24:55
7. Bai Xue, CHN 2:25:18
8. Kim Smith, NZL 2:25:21
9. Mari Ozaki, JPN 2:25:43
10. Mara Yamauchi, GBR 2:26:16