Kenyan Olympic 5000m champion finishes first after world record-chasing Mary Keitany fades and Tirunesh Dibaba fails to finish
Vivian Cheruiyot pounced in the latter stages to seize her opportunity and tear up the script with victory in the elite women’s race at the Virgin Money London Marathon.
All of the pre-event talk had centred on defending champion Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba attempting to dethrone Paula Radcliffe as the world record-holder, but it was Olympic 5000m gold medallist Cheruiyot who ultimately crossed the line first in 2:18:31, the fourth-fastest time in history. Her Kenyan compatriot Brigid Kosgei was second in 2:20:13, with Ethiopia’s Tadelech Bekele third after clocking 2:21:40.
Just as with Radcliffe when she set her remarkable 2:15:25 in 2003, male pacemakers were employed to help Ketainy and Dibaba in their pursuit of history and it was that duo who made the early running, quickly separating themselves from the rest of the field and going through 5km together in 15:46 and 10km in 30:46.
When Keitany edged ahead of her Ethiopian rival around the 10-mile mark, which was passed in 51:16, she was 32 seconds inside world record pace and looking on course to achieve her stated aim.
The pacemakers had been asked to take the leaders through halfway in 67:30 but Keitany remained ahead of schedule at that point, clocking 67:16, and with a growing lead over Dibaba. At that stage, Cheruyiot had been a full one minute and 40 seconds behind.
As was demonstrated recently at both the Commonwealth Games and in Boston, however, the marathon can be a cruel and unforgiving distance and two of the key players began to suffer in the hot and testing conditions.
First Dibaba – who had had to contend some stomach problems during the performance which took her to second place behind Keitany 12 months ago – came to an abrupt halt. The multi Olympic and world champion had been adrift by 52 seconds at the 30km mark when she stopped, looking in serious discomfort. Despite her efforts to get running again, her race was run.
Up ahead, Keitany now appeared to be fighting a lone battle against the clock but the first sign of a wobble came with a mile split of 5:37 at mile 15. Two miles later and she had begun to drift behind world record pace schedule.
Radcliffe’s record run 15 years before had come off the back of a strong second half but the opposite of that scenario was unfolding for Keitany.
The pace began to slip further, which meant the leader soon appeared on Cheruiyot’s horizon. It was all the motivation the chaser needed she set about reeling her opponent in.
Keitany was officially still clinging on to the lead when she hit mile 22 but a split of 5:50 told its own story and very shortly afterwards Cheruiyot stormed past and into a lead she would not relinquish.
The 34-year-old, who sampled marathon victory for the first time when winning in Frankfurt last year, did not take long to establish a sizeable lead as Keitany went backwards and finished strongly to obliterate her previous marathon best of 2:23:35.
Keitany, who had set the women’s-only world record of 2:17:01 set when winning in London last year, was to eventually finish fifth in 2:24:07. She had the consolation of finishing as this year’s Abbott World Marathon Majors champion.
Cheruiyot, meanwhile, insisted that her patience had been the key to victory.
“The reason it was so good for me today was because I started slowly,” said the four-time world track champion. “I didn’t go with the faster group because the faster group was quicker than I was at the start. Then I came slowly, slowly.
“I decided to stay behind and I felt comfortable (in the first half).
“I saw Dibaba, and I had enough energy that I thought ‘I’m going to get her.’ After that, I saw Mary, and I got her, and I thought ‘yes, today I am going to be a winner of the London marathon’ and I’m so happy.”
The London Marathon also offered the top two homegrown athletes to cross the line the chance to qualify for this summer’s European Championships.
It was Lily Partridge who took the first slot. Having made her marathon debut in Seville last year with 2:32:10, the Aldershot athlete bounced back from having to stop in Berlin in the autumn by running 2:29:24 for eighth place and a time within the European qualifying standard of 2:36:00.
Tracy Barlow followed her in ninth place with 2:32:09, while Rebecca Murray clocked 2:39:37.
“I felt absolutely fantastic until 35km and then it started to bite,” said Partridge. “Then it got slowly worse.”
She added: “It’s only the second time I’ve run past 23 miles and I’ve only ever done the full distance once [during training]. I was disappointed with the time, as I was targeting a quicker time but that was all I had today so I’ll take that and keep building.
“I was aware it was hot. I needed to be sensible. I don’t believe it affected my race today. It wasn’t dangerously hot.”
» See the April 26 edition of AW magazine for full coverage