2008 London Marathon
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London Marathon - The Race
by John Elliott
The field assembled for the 2008 London Marathon was strong, but it was not going to break any records. With that in mind, race organizers chose to alter what they have done in past years and chose to not have pacers for the women's race. For the first time in years, the London Marathon was to be a strategic race and not an all-out race for speed. Also, as in most recent years, the women would start before the men, meaning that they would have neither the interference from male runners, but they would also not have the potential pacing benefits of men - these women were on their own.
The women began the race and immediately it was apparent that the race would be relatively slow. The first mile was passed in 6:13 - a time befitting many decent regional runners, not a pace that would be expected by the top runners in the world. By 5K (17:36), the average mile had declined to 5:40, but it was still clear that the race had not truly begun and that there would be no records broken on this day. At this point, there are still 16 runners together, a further testament to the leisurely pace - this in contrast to the 2007 race in which the field was down to six women almost from the starting gun.
Irina Mikitenko is the first to become annoyed by the slow pace and she takes the lead after mile 7 as the pace improves slightly. But the pack remains large through the Half-Marathon point which is passed in 1:12:52 (simple math: 1:12:52 X 2 = 2:25:44 = the slowest London Marathon in eleven years). At the Half-Marathon, Irina Mikitenko leads, followed by Constantina Dita, Svetlana Zakharova, Ludmila Petrova, Everline Kimwei, Berhane Adere, Souad Ait Salem, Gete Wami and Salina Kosgei. Adrian Pirtea, who had been with the lead group fell off the pace just before the halfway mark, struggled to get back to the group, but was unable to... But still, at the halfway mark 9 women remain.
Everline Kimwei, in her debut marathon is the next to falter and she will, soon after, drop out of the race. But then...
Disaster at the 30K Mark
With Mikitenko still leading a tight group of eight women through the water station just before the 30K mark, Souad Ait Salem falls and takes down Gete Wami with her. These two are at the back of the pack, so it goes unnoticed to the women in the front. Most had pegged Wami as the favorite to win, so this will seriously affect the race. Ait Salem gets up first, but Wami looks a bit dazed as she stands up and tries to shake it out. Wami has lost ten seconds from the fall and she looks hurt - it is expected that she might not make it to the finish. Wami tells us after the race that she still didn't know exactly what happened. She knew just that someone fell down in front of her and that she [Wami] fell, and literally fell on her face. Her hips hurt her and she will take some time to recover.
But as a champion, Wami did not give up and catches back up to the lead pack in just more than a mile after her fall. At the same time, Constantina Dita has fallen back from the pack [in our pre-race coverage we noted that Dita appeared to be suffering from a cold] and Ait Salem is also far behind the leaders. For a moment Berhane Adere takes the lead, but Mikitenko resumes control of the race and begins to push the pace further.
Led by Mikitenko, mile 22 (5:26), mile 23 (5:22) and mile 24 (5:13) become progressively faster and the race draws down to three women: Mikitenko, Zakharova and Wami. By mile 24, Kosgei is nearly one minute behind and Petrova is just behind Kosgei. The race will be between three women.
Mikitenko had run just one marathon previously - the 2007 Berlin Marathon where she lost to Wami. In that race, it is well known that Mikitenko's husband called to her from the side of the course that she should slow down, and as that was her first marathon, she was unsure of what she might be able to achieve. In London, there was no one to tell Mikitenko to slow down and, feeling completely confident, she took control of the race. Gete Wami was the first to be dropped by Mikitenko and Zakharova and would need to settle for third place - it will forever be speculation as to whether the fall was the deciding factor in Wami's inability to win. Mikitenko easily overpowered Zakharova and ran in triumphantly to win in 2:24:14 - her first marathon win at the age of 35. While the time was the slowest in London since 2000, the fact that Mikitenko controlled the race and pushed the pace from the beginning legitimizes the win and Mikitenko's place as a top marathoner. Zakharova, the 2002 champion, finished second in 2:24:39 and Wami, limping as she finishes takes third place in 2:25:37.