By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2020 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(04-Oct) — On a cold and rainy morning in Central London today (10C/50F), women’s marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya continued her domination of the sport by successfully defending her Virgin Money London Marathon title by more than three minutes in 2:18:58. Nearly three hours later, Ethiopia’s Shura Kitata was the upset winner in the men’s division, prevailing by just one second in an exciting sprint finish over Kenya’s Vincent Kipchumba, 2:05:41 to 2:05:42. Shockingly, world record holder, reigning Olympic marathon champion, and four-time London winner Eliud Kipchoge finished eighth.
The wheelchair races (which just finished moments ago) were won by Brent Lakatos of Canada (1:36:04) and Nikita Den Boer of the Netherlands (1:40:07).
The pandemic-delayed, 40th edition of the event was held with elite athletes, only, on a secured, 19.76-lap course with no spectators in St. James’s Park. It was only the second race of the Abbott World Marathon Majors which could be held this year because of the coronavirus. The other was the Tokyo Marathon back in March which was also held for elite athletes, only.
KOSGEI CRUISES TO VICTORY
Men and women ran in separate sections today, and the women went first at 07:15 BST. Many of the competitors wore caps, gloves, or arm warmers to shake off the morning chill, including Kosgei who wore black gloves.
Kosgei lined up next to her main rival and compatriot, Ruth Chepngetich, the reigning world champion, and the race quickly turned into a duel between the two Nike-sponsored women who wore matching orange and blue uniforms. By the time the pair reached the halfway point in 1:08:12 behind the pacemaking of Vivian Kiplagat (a 2:21 marathoner herself), their nearest chasers were nearly a minute behind. Kosgei, who removed her gloves in the sixth kilometer, was trying to get into a rhythm, but she wasn’t enjoying the weather.
“You know, due to corona we have not prepared well, and then the weather affect us,” Kosgei told the Abbott World Marathon Majors media team after the race. “There is some wind and there is rain all the way. So, it makes our muscles to be cold; nobody becoming warm.”
Nonetheless, the pace was strong. Organizers were hoping that the lead women could threaten the World Athletics women-only world record of 2:17:01 set by Mary Keitany on the regular London Marathon course back in 2017. Through halfway they were still inside of that pace.
But after Kiplagat finished her pacing duties at 25 km, the race turned tactical. Kosgei and Chepngetich covered the next 5 kilometers in 17:01, well off of the world record pace. Kosgei felt that was too slow, and sensing weakness in her rival –who had athletic tape on the back of her left leg– she decided to increase the pace.
“Nothing I planned; just that I feel good,” she said later when asked why she decided to move around the 30-K mark.
Covering the five kilometers from 30 to 35-K in 16:42, Kosgei quickly built a 46-second lead which would prove insurmountable.
“You don’t need to do anything flashy in this situation,” said Olympic marathoner Mara Yamauchi who was commentating on the world feed.
Her form never changing –although she looked back several times– Kosgei glided to the finish on The Mall, collecting her eighth career marathon win.
“I tried my best; I finished good,” she said modestly. She added: “My legs could not move, so I tried my best.”
Behind Kosgei, a dramatic battle for second place was playing out. American Sara Hall had been in eighth place at the halfway mark, but had been steadily moving up. She was in sixth position by 25-K, fifth by 30-K, and fourth by 35-K. She would soon pass Ethiopia’s Ashete Bekere to take over third place, but at 40-K she was still a sizable 40 seconds down on Chepngetich.
“I was fighting that whole way, catching people,” Hall said in her Abbott World Marathon Majors interview. “Seeing the world champion in the last lap, that definitely motivated me to give it my all.”
Remarkably, Hall began to close the gap to Chepngetich. Making the final turn onto the finish straight on The Mall, the Asics-sponsored athlete went into a full sprint passing the world champion just 15 seconds before she finished. Hall got second in a career best 2:22:01, four seconds ahead of Chepngetich. Hers was the first podium finish by an American woman in London since Deena Kastor won the race in 2006.
“I’m still kind of in shock to be honest,” she said. “Deena was was my teammate when she set the American record and won the race. I just feel honored to be able to be enjoying my career at age 37. Hopefully, more to come.”
Down the finish order, there were several noteworthy performances. American Molly Seidel, running in only her second marathon, ran a personal best 2:25:13 to finish sixth. Seventh place Gerda Steyn of South African ran a career best of 2:26:51, not far off of Colleen De Reuck’s national record of 2:26:35 set back in 1996. Forty-three year-old Sinead Diver of Australia ran 2:27:07 in eighth place.
But it was not great day for British women who were both running for Olympic Games qualifying times (2:29:30 or better) and the U.K. Athletics national title. The two top-seeded women, Steph Twell and Lily Partridge, both dropped out. That left the door open for Natasha Cochram and Naomi Mitchell who, in 13th and 14th place, respectively, were the top two British women. Cockram ran 2:33:19 to Mitchell’s 2:33:23. Mitchell set a personal best.
KITATA SPRINTS FOR THE WIN WHILE KIPCHOGE FADES
The men’s race did not go as both fans and organizers alike had imagined one week ago.
First, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele scratched from the race on Friday citing a calf injury. That left world record holder Eliud Kipchoge as the bookie’s favorite, but it also opened the door for some of the other challengers to take a shot at the win.
Second, the first half went much slower than anticipated. Organizers told the athletes in yesterday’s technical meeting that the pacemakers would go out in 61:00 in the first group, but today they ran a much slower 1:02:54, instead, probably because of the weather. That allowed the race to be much more tactical in the second half.
Third, Kipchoge wasn’t feeling his best. He was cruising along with the leading group of ten at the halfway mark, but soon a strange thing happened: his ear began to bother him.
“After 25 kilometers my ear blocked and it couldn’t open anymore,” Kipchoge wrote on his Twitter feed.
Kipchoge was still with the leading group of nine at 35 km (Ethiopians Tamirat Tola, Mosinet Geremew, Mule Wasihun, Sisay Lemma, and Shura Kitata, and Kenyans Vincent Kipchumba, Benson Kipruto, and Marius Kipserem) but soon the unthinkable happened: he was dropped. By the 40-K mark he was 27 seconds behind the leaders and out of contention. He would finish eighth in 2:06:49, his slowest career marathon outside of his 2016 Olympic victory in Rio.
“But this is how sport is, we should accept defeat and focus for the winning next time,” Kipchoge tweeted.
Kitata, known for his aggressive tactics, made sure the final two kilometers would be painful for his rivals. He put in multiple surges after Lemma had been the man doing the pushing, and he saved his final push for The Mall.
Kitata, Kipchumba and Lemma came around the final bend together, and Kipchumba was the first to go. Kitata covered that move, then went into a full sprint. Kipchumba matched him at first, but in the final 20 meters had to let go. Kitata, who had won second-level marathons like Rome and Frankfurt, got his first win in a Major in 2:05:41. Kipchumba crossed one second later, and Lemma finished third in 2:05:45.
“I felt full of confidence today,” Kitata said through his manager Hussein Makke. “I took the advice of my coach Haji and I believed I could do some serious, serious damage today.”
To beat Kipchoge was incredible, he said.
“This is some great feeling,” Kitata said. “I want time for it to sink in. But, we always on our team and coach said one time we will beat Kipchoge, and it was today.”
In the battle for the British title, Jonny Mellor pulled away from debutant Ben Connor in the final three kilometers and clocked 2:10:38 to finish 13th, his second Olympic qualifying mark of the year (he also ran 2:10:05 in Seville last February). Connor held on to finish 15th in 2:11:20, then immediately crumpled to the pavement in exhaustion. His time was just 10 seconds inside of the Olympic qualifying standard.
The only American in the men’s field, Olympian Jared Ward, finished 17th in 2:12:28.
“I haven’t felt like that since my first marathon,” Ward said through Twitter who wasn’t able to do a full marathon build-up. “I’m going to train a little longer next time.”