Former winner Tsegay Kebede and Olympic silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo took surprise victories at the Virgin London Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on a day when pre-race favourites and Olympic champions suffered.
Defending champion Wilson Kipsang, Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich and 2011 London winner Emmanuel Mutai were all favoured ahead of Kebede by most pundits to win the men’s race. Similarly, Olympic champion Tiki Gelana, World champion Edna Kiplagat and former World cross-country champion Florence Kiplagat were talked about more so than Jeptoo in the lead-up to the women’s race.
There was also a hint of Olympic redemption for both winners, as they returned to the streets of the city that last year hosted the Olympic Games. Kebede controversially missed out on selection for the Ethiopian team, while Jeptoo had to settle for the silver medal.
But today, at least, both athletes put those demons to bed in two of the highest-quality fields ever assembled in the British capital.
Kebede times his finish to perfection
For much of the first half of the race, there was much excitement over the possibility of a World record as nine men covered the first 13.1 miles in well under 62 minutes.
Less than 10km later, the pack had reduced to just four athletes, who were still operating at sub-2:04 schedule while Kebede, the 2008 Olympic and 2009 World bronze medallist, was just off the pace running alone in fifth.
The elite men then began to pay for their early enthusiasm and the pace dropped noticeably between 30km and 35km. Stanley Biwott used this as his opportunity to open up daylight on Mutai, but his lead lasted for just a few kilometres as the 2009 World silver medallist breezed past him into the front just minutes later.
But while Mutai was enjoying a bit of a second wind, he was completely unaware that Kebede was quickly working his way through the field and was up to second place at 40km. Mutai’s leading margin was 28 seconds at that point, but he then began to struggle.
Just moment before turning the corner into the finishing straight, Kebede moved ahead of his Kenyan rival and kicked towards the finish line, crossing it in 2:06:04 to finish 29 seconds ahead of Mutai.
Ayele Abshero of Ethiopia held on well for third in 2:06:57 as only three men broke 2:07. Defending champion Kipsang was fifth, one place ahead of Olympic champion Kiprotich.
Third time lucky in London for Jeptoo
After finishing third in last year’s London Marathon then second in the Olympic Marathon in the same city, Priscah Jeptoo had just one position in her mind for today’s race.
She was one of a lead group of nine women who went through half-way in a conservative – for Jeptoo, at least – 1:11:49. The true racing then began as Jeptoo, Edna Kiplagat, Florence Kiplagat and Meselech Melkamu forged ahead.
Another swift 5km followed as just Jeptoo and Edna Kiplagat were left out in front. The World champion attempted one or two surges, but she couldn’t respond when Jeptoo made a break for home with five miles to go.
Jeptoo continued to extend her lead on Kiplagat in the closing stages, and after covering the second half in 1:08:36, she crossed the finish line in a world-leading 2:20:15 – just one second outside the PB she set at the London Marathon last year when finishing third.
Kiplagat was more than a minute behind, finishing in 2:21:32, while Yukiko Akaba of Japan was a surprise third-place finisher in 2:24:43.
Gelana – who just after 15km collided with a wheelchair racer and fell to the ground – had done well to stay with the leaders past half way, but she soon began to drift back before being reduced to a jog in the latter stages, eventually finishing 16th in 2:36:55.