Lel, Mikitenko triumph in London Marathon

Kenyan Martin Lel retained his London Marathon title in a fantastic men’s race on Sunday when the first three broke the course record and the first six finishers recorded personal bests.

Lel, winner in 2005 and last year and second in 2006, looked comfortable throughout despite the first 30km being run at a scorching sub-world-record pace and outkicked compatriot Sammy Wanjiru (21) over the last 500m to come home in 2:05:15.

In the women’s race, German Irina Mikitenko won her first major marathon title on only her second outing over the distance when she produced a devastating last three miles to win in 2:24:14.

The 35-year-old former Kazakhstan Olympic 5 000m track athlete made her marathon debut last year when she finished second to Gete Wami in Berlin, but the Ethiopian race favourite could manage only third place on Sunday after losing ground when falling at a feed station at the 30km mark.

The 28th edition of the London race began in ideal, benign conditions and marked the centenary of the 1908 London Olympic marathon when the now-standard distance of 26 miles, 385 yards was established.

In the early days of marathon running, the distance varied around the 25-mile (40km) mark but the extra mile was added at the start in Windsor Castle to please the Royal family and the 385 yards was a circuit of the finishing track in White City stadium for the race to end in front of the royal box.

This year’s race also needed a diversion as a gas leak caused a rapid shift of the course, though the amended route added only a few metres to the women’s race.

Record pace

The men, unaffected by the change, tore through the opening kilometres and, helped by a pair of pacemakers, were well on pace to break Haile Gebrselassie’s world record of 2:04:26.

Lel went through 30km in 1:28:29—an African record for the distance—and appeared completely comfortable with the pace as the challengers eventually dropped off to leave a group of three for the last few kilometres.

The early efforts, combined with cold rain, did eventually slow the leaders slightly but Lel was relentless and when he drove on again over the final 500m, Wanjiru could not respond and finished nine seconds adrift.

Morocco’s Abderrahim Goumri, second last year when he was outkicked by Lel, had to settle for bronze this time but still in a terrific time of 2:05:30—eight seconds inside the 2002 course record of Khalid Khannouchi.

Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai finished fourth, Ryan Hall of the United States fifth and Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga sixth—all in impressive sub-2:07 times.

Mikitenko also looked strong throughout the women’s race, though Wami was badly affected by her fall.

She rejoined the race after losing 10 seconds and though she quickly rejoined Mikitenko and Russian Svetlana Zakharova, the extra effort took its toll and she could not stay with them when the pace quickened in the final stages.

Mikitenko raced over 5 000m in the 1996 Olympics but switched nationality in 1998.

Having gained huge confidence from her Berlin debut last year, she used her track speed to drive home in the rain and finish 25 seconds ahead of Zakharova, who completed a hat-trick of silvers after finishing runner-up in 2001 and 2002.—Reuters

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