Kenyan breaks course record with 2:02:37 to take London Marathon victory while Mo Farah finishes fifth and Callum Hawkins creates history
Every time Eliud Kipchoge runs, he appears to use it as an opportunity to underline his greatness. If ever there were any doubts that the Kenyan is the finest marathon runner in history then his command performance in winning a record fourth London title surely dispelled them.
His winning time of 2:02:37 broke the London course record and only one person has ever gone quicker over the distance – Kipchoge himself, who ran 2:01:39 in Berlin to break the world record last year.
This is a man clearly at the peak of his athletic powers and, though there was a degree of pressure applied on the streets of the UK capital, he always looked in total control.
Ethiopian Mosinet Geremew set a national record of 2:02:55 but he still finished 18 seconds behind the victor, while compatriot Mule Wasihun clocked 2:03:16 for third.
In the lead-up to the race, there had been hope of a battle between Kipchoge and European record-holder Mo Farah but, in truth, such a joust simply didn’t materialise and, after a controversial week for the Briton, he took the national title in fifth with 2:05:39, outside his best of 2:05:11.
Farah was not the only home athlete to finish in the top 10, however, as Callum Hawkins bounced back in remarkable style from last year’s collapse while leading the Commonwealth Games, destroying his personal best to run 2:08:14 and smashing Allister Hutton’s 34-year-old Scottish record of 2:09:16.
Hawkins also made sure of World Championships selection for Doha, well inside the qualifying mark of 2:13:00, as well as meeting the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying criteria of finishing in the top 10 and running inside 2:11:30. Welshman Dewi Griffiths was 16th in 2:11:46.
Kipchoge was to the fore throughout the race, at the head of a nine-strong group containing Geremew, Wasihun, former world record-holder Wilson Kipsang and last year’s runner-up Shura Kitata, with Farah content to sit at the back. The first 5km was passed in 14:23, 10km in 29:01, while the first real injection of speed came not long after the halfway mark was passed by the leaders in 61:37.
A group of five – Kipchoge, Geremew, Wasihu, world silver medallist Tamirat Tola and Valencia winner Leul Gebrselassie – began to edge away as the 14th mile was covered in 4:32 and it became clear that, once again, Kipchoge was planning something special.
Farah gave it his all but sensibly did not attempt to match the pace as he gradually began to fall further adrift. Behind him, Hawkins – who had passed halfway in 63:21 – was growing in strength and bang on the schedule he had spoken about pursuing earlier in the week.
Kipchoge continued in his trademark, serene fashion as his competitors began to fade. First Gebrselassie was dropped, then Tata, to leave a three-way fight for the title as the closing stages loomed. As they progressed along the Embankment, at first it did not look like Geremew and Wasihun would be shaken off. A man used to having things his own way when it comes to closing out a race, how would Kipchoge respond?
The Kenyan’s smile betrays a ruthless streak and another change of pace (mile 24 was covered in 4:43 but mile 25 produced a split of 4:30) was as decisive as it was impressive. His foes vanquished, Kipchoge allowed himself to enjoy a finishing stretch down the Mall in the shadow of Buckingham Palace which could only be described as processional.
“I had the confidence to win,” said Kipchoge, who has won his last 10 marathons in a row and admitted he is hoping to defend his Olympic title in Tokyo next year.
“I was very worried,” he added, when asked about having two pursuers with him in the closing stages. “Because you never know what will happen when everyone is at your back.”
As it turned out, the 34-year-old had little cause for concern.
To Farah’s great credit, he didn’t throw in the towel and though he insisted it was not a distraction, it’s hard to gauge just how much of a toll his very public and controversial row with Haile Gebrselassie took.
“I felt great with my start,” said the four-time Olympic champion. “My aim was to follow the pacemaker, but after 20 miles when he dropped out, the gap opened up and it became hard to close. My aim was to try and reel them back but the wheels came off and I was hanging in there.”
Hawkins admitted to feeling a wobble around the 40km mark, the same stage where disaster struck last year, but held on to become the third-fastest Briton in history.
“It was really important,” he said of bouncing back from Gold Coast. “I was really feeling it in the last 5km. It was really tough out there and really windy but I got my head around it and ground out the last 2km.”
Griffiths was the next Brit across the line, followed by Jonny Mellor’s 19th in 2:13:25, while Josh Griffiths was 21st in a personal best of 2:14:25 and Commonwealth bronze medallist Robbie Simpson also clocked a personal best, 2:14:56, for 23rd.
Daniel Romanchuk roars to wheelchair win
America’s Daniel Romanchuk claimed to be “in shock” but, given that he won the Boston Marathon earlier this month, as well as enjoying victory in Chicago and New York last autumn, his triumph in the elite men’s wheelchair race in London can hardly qualify as a complete surprise.
The 20-year-old did have to rely on a strong closing finish to hit the line first in 1:33:38 but he fought off two-time London winner and highly decorated Swiss Marcel Hug (1:33:42) as well as Japan’s Tomoki Suzuki (1:33:51).
Eight-time winner David Weir admitted to an off-day as he finished fifth on what was his 20th consecutive London Marathon appearance, coming home in 1:37:32.
The Briton had been in touch with the leading group going through halfway but, as the inaugural “Flying 400” – a 400m time trial section – approached, Romanchuk made an uphill break which pulled the eventual top three away from the rest of the field for the remainder of the race.
Romanchuk earned $10,000 for winning the sprint in 45 seconds and the lead changed hands between he, Hug and Suzuki until the closing stages, where the youngest competitor got his tactics just right to finish first and land his maiden World Para Athletics Marathon Championships title.
“I’m still in shock,” he said. “This past year has been incredible. “I climb much better than I descend and I tried to take as much advantage I could on the climbs, I talked to my coaches a lot about this and this is how we planned the race to go.
“The next thing for me is to recover from this and I’ll be heading on to the track after that It’s my first world title and it’s really hard to describe the feeling, I didn’t plan a specific place or anything so this is incredible.”
For Weir, back in a British vest since initially retiring from international athletics in 2017, said: “I just didn’t have it today. I knew Daniel had it when he put the burners on after Tower Bridge. I was slower than previous years, I just had no energy to be honest. I don’t know whether it was the infections I had for a few weeks in the build-up, but I’m not going to make excuses, I just wasn’t good enough today.
“It’s just a one-off thing. I kept up with Marcel and Daniel in New York. I was with them all the way to the end, but it’s just one of those things.”
Weir’s compatriot JohnBoy Smith fought off flu to finish 11th in 1:38:33, while Simon Lawson was 15th in 1:39:58.
In the T46 category, Britain’s Derek Rae destroyed his personal best as he followed up last year’s World Cup victory with a world silver medal thanks to his time of 2:27:08, beating his previous best by over six minutes. Australia’s Michael Roeger took gold in a world record of 2:22:51.
“I’m proud of myself and the team,” said Rae. “It’s a great individual achievement but also good to get the team going on the medal table for the World Championships. We’ve sacrificed a lot over the last six years; myself, my wife, my team; and now we are starting to reap the rewards. Proud is an understatement.”
» See the May 2 issue of AW magazine for further coverage from London