There are 466 days to go before London welcomes the world to the 2012 Olympic Games. It seems Paula Radcliffe will need every one of them if she is to catch up with the painfully shy little Kenyan woman who made a big statement of intent on the road from Blackheath to The Mall yesterday.
Mary Keitany has been a huge talent on the global road-running scene for some time now and on a glorious day for Kenya in England's capital city – with Emmanual Mutai winning the men's race in course record time – the 5ft 3in matchstick figure demonstrated every inch of it over the 26 miles 385 yards of the London Marathon.
She broke clear at the 14-mile point and reached the finish line 56 seconds clear of Russia's Liliya Shobukhova, last year's winner, in 2hr 19min 19sec. Her time will give Radcliffe considerable food for thought as the Briton prepares to hit the comeback trail with the 2012 Olympic marathon in mind.
Radcliffe, of course, holds the world record for the women's marathon, having clocked a staggering 2:15:25 in London back in 2003 but she has not broken 2hr 20min for six years now. Only the Bedford woman has recorded a faster time in London than Keitany, who is now the joint fourth-fastest female marathon runner of all time – behind Radcliffe, Catherine Ndereba (2:18:47) and Mizuki Noguchi (2:19:12) and alongside Irina Mikitenko.
Not that Keitany, a woman of very few words and quietly spoken, was exactly shouting the 2012 odds from the London rooftops last night. Asked whether she thought the streets of the English capital would be paved with Olympic gold for her next year, she considered the question for several moments and then replied: "Maybe. Depending if I qualify for the Kenyan team, I will try my level best."
She was even less effusive when asked whether she thought Radcliffe, who returns to action in the Great Manchester Run on 15 May and is planning an autumn marathon, could recapture some of her old form. "Maybe," Keitany replied.
Radcliffe, for one, is unlikely to have been surprised by Keitany's emergence as a formidable marathon force. The East African might have recorded a modest 2:29:01 on her marathon debut in New York last November but she has been unbeaten in half-marathons since 2007 and set a stunning world record of 65min 50sec at that distance in February.
A product of the Hidden Talent distance running school in Nairobi, Keitany has a two-year-old son, Jared – so if Radcliffe can get herself back into sub 2:20 shape, there might be the mother of all battles for Olympic gold in London next year.
In the battle for the three spots on the British team for the 2012 Games, Jo Pavey, another member of the maternal ranks, is standing in pole position. On her marathon debut yesterday, the 37-year-old finished 19th in 2:28:24. It put her comfortably inside the GB Olympic qualifying time of 2:31 and seventh on the British all-time list. Louise Damen, another British debutante, was also inside the 2012 mark, placing 20th in 2:30:00.
Kenyans filled the first three places in the men's race, Mutai leading the way with the fastest time ever recorded in the 31-year history of the London Marathon. Breaking clear after 20 miles, he finished in 2:04:40, knocking 30 seconds off Sammy Wanjiru's course record and rocketing to No 4 on the world all-time ranking list, behind Haile Gebrselassie, whose world record stands at 2:03:59, and Duncan Kibet and James Kwambai, who have both recorded 2:04:27.
The race for the runner-up spot was won in a sprint finish by Martin Lel, though both he and Patrick Makau were credited with the same time: 2:05:45. The first Briton was Channel Islander Lee Merrien, 14th in 2:14:27, although the first UK club runner was actually Serod Batochir, the Mongolian marathon man who trains on Tyneside and runs for Morpeth Harriers. He was ninth in 2:11:35.
There was one British success to celebrate, David Weir winning the men's wheelchair event for a record fifth time, clocking 1:30:05. The women's wheelchair race was won by Amanda McGrory of the United States in 1:46:31.
1 Emmanuel Mutai (Ken) 2:04.40
2 Martin Lel (Ken) 2:05.45
3 Patrick Makau (Ken) 2:05.45
1 Mary Keitany (Ken) 2:19.19
2 Liliya Shobukhova (Rus) 2:20.15
3 Edna Kiplagat (Ken) 2:20.46
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