Well, they succeeded in beating the clock in the elite men's race in London yesterday. It was not quite the clock that Dave Bedford, the Flora London Marathon race director, and the serious speed endurance merchants in the field had uppermost in mind: the one featuring Haile Gebrselassie's world record figures, 2hr 3min 59sec. Still, as he crossed the finish line in The Mall, Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru completed the fastest marathon ever run on the streets of the English capital. His winning time, 2:05:10, beat the course record by five seconds.
That the record had been held by his compatriot and close friend Martin Lel, a non-starter yesterday because of a hip injury, made the consolation prize all the sweeter for the young gun of a marathon man who shot to victory in Beijing last August in Olympic record time. Wanjiru had to work hard to claim his reward. After the pace had inevitably dropped off its sub world record schedule (at one point in the early stages, even sub two hours), the race came down to a duel between the Kenyan and another 22-year-old East African new wave marathoner: Tsegay Kebede, the 5ft 2in mighty atom of an Ethiopian who finished like an express train to snatch Olympic bronze on the Bird's Nest track in Beijing.
A real rags-to-riches runner, Kebede – who once upon a time helped his family survive by earning £1.20 a day gathering firewood, and who feared he was going to die in a bus crash before his debut marathon two years ago – was not short of motivational fuel. By 20 miles yesterday, he was the only man still in tow after Wanjiru injected a 4min 37sec mile. Jaouad Gharib, the 36-year-old Moroccan who split the pair as the silver medallist in Beijing, had dropped to a detached third.
There followed a gripping push-me-pull-you battle as Wanjiru surged, at one point getting a gap of 10 seconds, and Kebede clawed back the lost ground. It lasted to the 25 mile mark, at which point Wanjiru made what proved to be the decisive break. Kebede, suddenly stricken with a stomach problem, an untimely stitch, could not respond. He finished 10 seconds behind, in 2:05:20, with Gharib third, a further seven seconds back.
As striking as the finishing times was the shake of the head when Wanjiru was asked whether the scorching pace – 28min 36sec at 10km, 1hr 01min 35sec at halfway – had been too hot. "I told the pacemakers they were going too slow," the Kenyan winner revealed, to great consternation, at the post-race press conference. "They were very tired." Understandably so.
Salford Harrier Andi Jones was the first British man, 13th in 2:15:20. There was very nearly a British first in the men's wheelchair race, but in the sprint for the line David Weir was edged out by one second, finishing runner up to the Australian Kurt Fearnley, who clocked 1:28:56. The women's race was decided by the same margin, Amanda McCrory of the United States pipping Switzerland's Sandra Graf in 1:50:39.
London Marathon: Results
*Men 1 Samuel Wanjiru (Ken) 2hr 5min 10sec; 2 Tsegaye Kebede (Eth) 2:05:20; 3 Jaouad Gharib (Mor) 2:05:27
*Women 1 Irina Mikitenko (Ger) 2hr 22min 11sec; 2 Mara Yamauchi (GB) 2:23:12; 3 Liliya Shobukhova (Rus) 2:24:24.
*Men's wheelchair 1 Kurt Fearnley (Aus) 1hr 28min 57sec; 2 David Weir (GB).
*Women's wheelchair 1. Amanda McGrory (US) 1:50;39; 2 Sandra Graf (Swit).Reuse content