Jemima Sumgong survived a dramatic tumble – and the attentions of a harebrained spectator who jumped over the barriers and nearly caused another collision – to win an incident-packed women’s race in the London Marathon. Her Kenyan compatriot Eliud Kipchoge could not have looked more serene in the men’s race, however, gliding home in the second fastest marathon time in history.
The 31-year-old Sumgong has long been the nearly woman of the marathon, having been runner-up in Boston, Chicago and New York and coming fourth in last year’s world championships. In the past some have questioned her mental strength and finishing kick but on an unseasonable cold and sometimes blustery day she showed plenty of both as she kicked away from last year’s winner, Tigist Tufa, to win in 2hr 22min 58sec.
For the first 21 miles there was no great energy in the race. Instead, all the leading contenders eyed each other warily, waiting for the tension to break. Then, suddenly, it did as Sumgong was tripped by the Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia, who then also sent the pre-race favourite, Mary Keitany, flying.
“Mergia clipped my leg and I went down but the fall really affected me and I was unsure if I could continue,” Sumgong said. “I banged my head very hard and I felt it in my legs, so I am so surprised I won.”
Despite feeling dazed and having cuts on her head and shoulder, Sumgong was up quickly and – after dabbing her forehead – took to the task of pulling back a gap of 30 metres to the leaders. More surprisingly, when she got there she attacked, leaving only Tufa able to keep up.
More drama was to follow, however, as a marshal in a motorcycle helmet had to grab a spectator who had clambered over the barriers – and nearly into Sumgong. “Usually there are people outside the barriers who run with you,” she said afterwards. “I thought maybe he is enjoying it. I was not worried.”
Not everyone was so tranquil. The Metropolitan Police later confirmed its officers removed a man at about mile 22, near Shadwell in east London, but that no one had been arrested. A spokesman said: “He was initially detained while inquiries were undertaken and once it had been established that no offence had been committed and that he had misunderstood what was acceptable in relation to this event he was given words of advice and directed to leave the area.”
However, the performance of the day came from Kipchoge, who retained his London men’s title in the most brilliant and emphatic style, powering away from his compatriot Stanley Biwott after 24 miles to win in 2:03:05 – only eight seconds outside the world record.
The men charged through 10km in a scarcely believable 28 min 37 sec, and had the world record in sight as they passed through halfway in 61:24, but while the pace scattered the field Kipchoge looked steady throughout. “I was really comfortable with the pace,” he said. “I was happy with the time at 5km, 10km and at halfway.” And with his time at the end, too, he insisted, despite covering his face with his hands at the finish when he realised he had just missed out on the world record. “I didn’t realise the time but my reaction was not disappointment,” he said, smiling. “I have no regrets.”
Biwott also ran a personal best in finishing second in 2:03.51. “I’m really happy. It was a fast course and I beat my personal best,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d do that today. I just carried along with the pace.” Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia’s world 5,000m and 10,000m record holder, was happy, too, despite being a long way back in third in 2:06:36. He had good reason. He has sustained a number of injuries in recent years and was able to train for only two months beforehand.
Really, though, the day belonged to Kipchoge, who won his sixth marathon in seven attempts and is now a prohibitive favourite for the Olympics title in Rio. On the track he was talented enough to win the 2003 world championship gold over 5,000m as an 18-year-old, following it with Olympic bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008. However, as he is showing in the most emphatic way possible, he is even better on the road. A gold medal should be next and after that the world record will surely beckon like a siren’s call.
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