The men’s race
Lel regains his crown
Martin Lel regained his title in style, inflicting revenge on his compatriot Felix Limo who had beaten him to the line in 2006. The Kenyan won in 2:07:41, three seconds ahead of Morocco’s Abderrahim Goumri with Limo third in 2:07:47.
Race director David Bedford had assembled the best men’s field in history and the event did not disappoint. It was close until the final stages with four men still challenging as they approached The Mall. In the hot conditions, Paul Tergat’s world record of 2:04:55 was never going to be threatened but the presence of the great Kenyan, plus Ethiopia’s double Olympic track champion, Haile Gebrselassie, the double world marathon champion Jaouad Gharib of Morocco, and Italy’s Olympic champion Stefano Baldini made it a fantastic prospect.
Three Kenyan pacemakers were assigned to reach half way in 62:45 and Paul Kimugul, Wilfred Taragon and Patrick Makau duly led a field of 14 through the opening miles in 4:56, 4:59 and 4:39. Limo was prominent at the head of the group with Baldini, in 10th, just two seconds behind. But it was not to be a good day for the Italian who was already out of contention by 10km and dropped out after 28km with cramp.
The first split came when Limo led a pack of eight clear of a chasing group headed by USA’s 24-year-old debutant Ryan Hall. Goumri took the lead as they passed halfway in 63:39. The Moroccan had been seen as an outsider but like Gharib he is coached by the 1999 and 2001 London champion Abdelkader El Mouaziz.
Little changed until just after 30km when drama struck as Gebrselassie pulled up. He had looked troubled as the runners wound through London’s Docklands but no-one expected him to drop out. He stood by the side of the road near Canary Wharf, leant against a crash barrier, and held his stomach. “I had a stitch,” he explained later. “I just could not breathe.” It turned out later that he was allergic to London’s pollen-heavy air.
The leading group dropped to six as they reached the Embankment with less than three miles left – Lel, Limo, Gharib, Goumri, Tergat and the ever-present South African Hendrick Ramaala. It was quickly reduced to five when Tergat dropped away and four when Ramaala slipped out of contention as the runners swept past Big Ben.
As the remaining quartet turned into the final 200m, Lel kicked for home. Although Goumri went with him, he was never going to catch the Kenyan. “I corrected the mistakes from last year,” said Lel. “I had to be careful to preserve my energy. Last year I made a great mistake when I did not have enough left at the finish and could not react.”
In the absence of Jon Brown, who had withdrawn with illness on the morning of the race, Dan Robinson, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, became Britain’s leading man. He finished ninth in 2:14:14 having run alone for most of the morning.
The women’s race
Zhou wins first for China
Zhou Chunxiu became the first Chinese athlete to win the London Marathon with a run of meticulous timing that, 16 months before the Olympic Games in Beijing, introduced the sport to a new star.
Wearing a white peaked-cap to protect her from temperatures that rose during the morning from 16.3 at the start to 21.7°C at midday, Zhou was the one athlete who never looked troubled during a gripping race. The 28-year-old won in 2:20:38, having taken control after 22 miles, with Ethiopia’s Gete Wami second in 2:21:45 and the Romanian Constantina Tomescu-Dita third in 2:23:55.
Zhou was the only competitor in the field to have broken 2:20, having won in Seoul in September 2006 in 2:19:51, but this field was the toughest she had ever faced.
The Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat, fresh from winning the World Cross Championships in Mombasa the previous month, made the first move after an opening mile of 5:27. But her 15-metre advantage behind the Kenyan pacemakers of Mary Keitany and Irene Kipchumba did not develop and the opening half of the race became a six-woman affair as Zhou, Tomescu-Dita, Wami, her compatriot Berhane Adere, and Australia’s Benita Johnson jostled for position behind Kiplagat.
By 15km (49:34) just a second separated the leading six, with Britons Mara Yamauchi and Liz Yelling further back in eighth and ninth, Yamauchi trailing Kiplagat by 1:14. The first significant change came at 11 miles when Johnson dropped away. Zhou led the remaining five over Tower Bridge, but there was nothing to choose between them. They passed half way in 69:58, just 13 seconds off the asking pace, which in the warm conditions was excellent pacing.
Soon it was down to four, and by the time they passed 16 miles in 1:26 there were only three with Kiplagat still battling for the lead with Wami and Zhou.
Everything changed at mile 22 when the Chinese woman made her move. In the next two miles she settled the race, increasing the pace slightly in mile 23, clipped off in 5:27, before adding a punishing 24th mile in 5:09 that left her in the lead as they reached the Embankment. Wami indicated the game was up when she glanced behind her and Zhou reached Birdcage Walk without a challenge before crossing the line just outside the 2:20 barrier.
“This result shows that my training has worked,” she said afterwards. “I started to train for the marathon only in 2002, so to win a race such as this one is fantastic. I am honoured to be the first Chinese person to win the race.”
Wami was also happy with her performance. “It was my dream to run well here and it is a great day for me to finish in second place,” said the Ethiopian. “I was surprised by Zhou because I had never heard of her.”
Tomescu-Dita recovered to pass the tiring Kiplagat while Kosgei also caught the Dutchwoman to finish fourth in 2:24:13. Yamauchi was sixth with Yelling eighth in a PB of 2:30:44, just inside the 2:31 qualifying time for Beijing.
The men’s wheelchair race
Weir wins number three
For the first time since 2002, Britain produced the winners of both London Marathon wheelchair races as David Weir retained his men’s title and Shelly Woods won the women’s.
Weir defeated Paralympic champion Kurt Fearnley of Australia by just one second to chalk up his third London victory. After the first few miles the leading group included all the likely winners with Mexico’s Saul Mendoza, South Africa’s Ernst Van Dyk and the Japanese London debutant Choke Yasuoka alongside Weir and Fearnley. Any chance of victory for eight-times Seville champion Roger Puigbo Verdaguer disappeared early when he suffered a puncture.
Weir and Fearnley soon moved ahead of the field, displaying competitive attitude as well as mutual respect as they gave each other a lot of eye contact. They went through half way in 43:10 more than 1:27 ahead of their rivals.
As they reached Big Ben Weir turned to Fearnley, shook his hand and said, “Well done, great race.” Then both athletes slowed before turning into The Mall in front of a vociferous crowd. Weir unleashed his phenomenal sprint to cross the line in 1:30:49, the second fastest time on the course.
“At 15 miles, we were flying at 18 miles per hour,” said Weir. “But it was a tactical race today and I got it right.”
Fearnley was disappointed to suffer his first defeat in eight marathons since October 2006 but he paid respect to his conqueror.
Mendoza won a battle with Van Dyk for the bronze medal after a desperate sprint finish as both athletes clocked the same time, 1:33:46. Yasuoka was fifth in 1:33:50, followed by the 20-year-old Briton Brian Alldis in 1:44:31.
The women’s wheelchair race
Woods wins with promise
Twenty-year-old Shelly Woods lived up to the potential she had shown as a teenager to easily beat the world record holder and four-time champion Francesca Porcellato of Italy in 1:50:40, the second fastest ever on the course.
Woods, who led from the start, said: “I didn’t want a sprint finish so I took the lead after 400 metres and just pushed on, but it was tough on my own.”
Woods was just 1:31 outside the course record set by Sweden’s Monica Wetterstrom in 1997. Porcellato was more than nine minutes behind, while the expected challenge from Deborah Johnson disappeared when she fell out of her chair early in the race and suffered facial injuries.