Dionicio Ceron's claim to be the world's best marathon runner appeared irresistible yesterday as he retained his Nutrasweet London Marathon title with a scarcely believable late surge.
Victory had appeared within the grasp of Portugal's Antonio Pinto, who led by over a minute with five miles to go. But the Mexican, accompanied by Australia's Commonweath champion, Steve Moneghetti, chased him down with the conviction of a champion and accelerated away on the final bend past Buckingham Palace to become the first man to win consecutively in London.
His time of 2hr 08min 30sec was the second fastest time in the event's history, behind Steve Jones's 1985 record of 2:08:13. Although Paul Evans did himself proud by finishing fifth in a personal best of 2:10:31, Britain had no one in Ceron's league.
It was the same story in the women's race, where Liz McColgan, competing at the highest level for the first time since the 1993 London race, was never a convincing contender. Courage is something she has never lacked, and she hung on grimly for fifth place. Ahead, Poland's Malgorzata Sobanska, in only her sixth marathon, withstood repeated surges from the Portuguese European champion, Manuela Machado, to win in 2:27:43.
McColgan confessed to having mixed feelings afterwards. "I was disappointed with my time," she said. "But I'm just pleased that I have finished the race after all my injury problems.
"I felt much better at the end than I did here two years ago. I was strong and relaxed all the way. But it's no use being strong and relaxed if you are in fifth or sixth place. I need some good track races to get some speed in my legs. You can't expect it to happen overnight. This is really just a first step for me in a long build-up for Atlanta."
The faint sound of singing momentarily undermined the press conference as the screens which had relayed the race began to show Songs of Praise. "And in earth's darkest place let there be light" read the caption beneath the picture - a sign for McColgan, perhaps - but all present resisted the opportunity to join in.
Britain's selectors have a problem for this summer's World Championship marathon. With Richard Nerurkar already chosen, two places remain, and Evans is set on running the 10,000 metres rather than the marathon in Gothenburg. The second place will almost certainly go to Mark Hudspith, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, who was 11th yesterday in a personal best of 2:11:58.
But it will be difficult to decide the relative merits of the 12th and 13th placed athletes, respectively Peter Whitehead and Eamonn Martin. Whitehead, aged 30, was no more than a good road runner two years ago, but last year he left his job working in a newsagents' shop at Leeds-Bradford airport and, assisted by contributions from his wife and mother, trained for four months at altitude in Albuquerque specifically for this race.
He was rewarded with a time of 2:12:23, his sixth personal best in six big city marathons. He hopes, but does not expect to get the trip to Gothenburg - although Martin finished 11 seconds behind him on the day, he has a wealth of competitive experience and was the last British winner of this event, in 1993.
Moneghetti, who lost the London title six years ago by the same margin of three seconds, admitted that had it not been for Ceron pushing on, he would have accepted that they were running for second place. Ceron admitted to no such doubts, saying that he never felt Pinto had gone beyond reach - "his pace was too fast, and there was too much wind. And I felt very confident in myself."
Before the race, Pinto had responded to Ceron and Moneghetti's bold predictions about times by saying that he would follow them with a sack and put them in it as he went past. As it turned out, he was the one who set out alone at world record pace, and they were the ones who enveloped him - passing either side in the final mile after pulling back a lead that stood at over a minute with five miles remaining.
Why, one wondered, had the Portuguese runner not stuck with his original race plan? He smiled sheepishly, and spoke at some length to the interpreter beside him, who emerged with the observation: "It happens."Reuse content