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2009 London Marathon - The Women's Race
by Sharon Ekstrom
photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images Sport
The Women's Race
The women's race featured the Gold, Silver and Bronze medalists from the 2008 Olympics; and seven of the top ten finishers from 2008, including the top three who had built an exciting race the year before. The favorites in the field had to be the Silver and Bronze medalists from the Olympics: Catherine Ndereba and Zhou Chunxiu - these two women were both experienced competitors and had the fastest best marathon times in the field. Defending champion, Irina Mikitenko (GER) must have been a favorite as well, but she had missed the Olympic Games due to a back injury, and so she had not had experience running against many of the women in this veteran field.
The race began with a 5:20 first mile led by pace maker Aniko Kalovics (HUN), who was instructed to lead the women through the half marahon mark into a 1:11:00. Kalovics pulled the field with Beijing Olympic Marathon gold medalist Constantina Dita (ROU), 2007 London Marathon champion Zhou Chunxiu (CHN) and Mikitenko (GER) in the front of the pack. Two-time World Champion Catherine Ndereba (KEN) eased into her usual spot in the back of the lead pack - always happy to sit back and observe.
Following the leader
Dita, who despite her Olympic gold medal had slower recent times than others in the field, quickly fell off the fast-paced pack mentioning breathing problems. Mikitenko along with Mara Yamauchi (GBR), Zhou Chunxiu (CHN) and Mika Okunaya (JPN) began to separate from what was becoming a second pack consisting of Catherine Ndereba (KEN), Berhane Adere (ETH), Gete Wami (ETH), Tomo Morimoto (JPN), Yuri Kano (JPN) and Lyudmila Petrova (RUS) who did not respond. The expectation was that the second group would eventually work to catch the leaders, but the gap between the two groups continued to grow.
The lead pack reached the 10K mark at 33:14, Okunaga whose personal best was a slower-than-othersa 2:27:16 from the 2009 Osaka Ladies Marathon was struggling to maintain the pace, while the chase pack led by Catherine Ndereba was already 16 seconds.
Mikitenko took the lead while Yamauchi and Chunxiu were comfortably hanging in with the pace. The group reached the 20K mark at 1:07:09 off of a speedy 5:06 mile, completely shaking off the chase pack which had fallen to 53 seconds behind. Mikitenko and Chunxiu, both former winners of the London Marathon, were expected to be leaders in the race, but Yamauchi's presence at the front was a bit of a surprise. Yamauchi was not the fastest women in the field and with four London Marathons on her resume, she had never finished better than sixth place in the race.
The Race to the Finish
Mikitenko, Yamauchi and Chunxiu reached the halfway mark in 1:10:53, just under the 61 minutes as promised by the pacesetter. The women were on target for a 2:21+/- finish, as Mikitenko confidently pushed forward. What followed was a number of tactical surges from the German who worked to get a solid lead. Meanwhile, the chase pack was over 90 seconds behind.
By mile 17, Chunxiu fell off the pack, as Yamauchi and Mikitenko alone pushed forward extending the gap. Surprised to see Yamauchi at her side, Mikitenko surged at a water station. Yamauchi running the best race of her life, could not be shaken and remained with Mikitenko.
The two women - Mikitenko and Yamauchi - ran stride for stride toward the 20 mile mark. The chase pack was over two minutes behind and it was clear they would not factor in this race.
Yamauchi commented, "(Mikitenko) was throwing surges all the way and I was trying to hold on...I did not have the speed to close the gap...I tried not to let myself think it was over. I thought that she'd really slow down, but she was too strong for me in the end."
With 1:49:14 on the clock at the 20 mile mark, Mikitenko surged again; but a fatigued Yamauchi failed to respond. Chunxiu running solo around 40 seconds behind was no longer a threat.
Mikitenko Wins Third Consecutive Career Marathon, Fourth Podium Spot
Mikitenko finished comfortably and alone to win in 2:22:11 - and became the first repeat winner since Paula Radcliffe in 2002/2003.. Mikitenko's career has been amazing. She started marathoning later in life than many - at 35 - and has been at the lead in all of her marathons. At her first marathon, the 2007 Berlin Marathon, she was told to slow down - so some believe that had she not, it would have been a win. Since then, Mikitenko is undefeated at Berlin and London. With this win, she sits firmly in first place on the 2008/2009 World Marathon Majors leaderboard.
Unfazed by the deep field, the now two-time winner had been confident for a repeat victory: "I knew really early in the race that I was in good form today and I felt that once I pushed the pace a little, the others wouldn't follow. I was surprised that the others fell back so quickly. At 25K I knew that I would be able to win against Mara (Yamauchi) as I am the better middle distance runner."
Yamauchi - A Shining Star for Britain
Following a stellar 2008 year in which Yamauchi won the Osaka Marathon and placed sixth at the Beijing Games, she was not a clear favorite going into London; and with a 2:25 personal best, she was not expected on the podium. Confident with her fitness and training, she had high hopes for the 2009 London Marathon. "After missing out on medals at the Olympics. I was determined to win every race after; but when I saw the roster, I had second thoughts, because I planned to win."
Yamauchi, coached by Bob Parker who incidentally was also coach of former 10,000m world record-holder and current race director of the London Marathon Race Director David Bedford, started off 2009 with three wins - a 10k and two half- marathons in Japan - earning a personal best from the Marugame Half-Marathon in a time of 68:29.
In the days before the race she planned for a big personal best for at the 2009 London Marathon. As promised, she shaved almost two minutes off her previous time from the 2008 Tokyo Marathon. Yamauchi, has shown incredible improvements and will be one to watch as the 2009 World Championships and, possibly, as the 2012 London Olympics approach. Second fastest British woman behind Paula Radcliffe, Yamauchi finished second in a 2:23:12 and at thirty-six is a star for British distance running.
Four Russians in the Top Ten
While four Russians including Svetlana Zakharova, Lyudmila Petrova and Inga Abitova placed in the top ten of the 2009 London Marathon, it's Liliya Shobokova who stood out among the Russian marathoners. Winner of the 2008 Philadelphia Distance Run (Half Marathon) in 70:21, she came from behind to best the favorites in her marathon debut. "I prepared for a 2:27 or 2:25," Shobokova was still in shock at her 2:24:24 third place finish. "I didn't expect to be in front of the (other Russians). They have lots of experience and great names. I did not expect to beat all three." She continued, "It was my first ever marathon and after a half marathon in Philadelphia. I knew I could run this distance. I have had a good offer to run the London Marathon and I had plenty of time to prepare and now I have this great result." Best known as a 10000m runner, Shobokova has no plans to run additional marathons in the near future and instead intends to qualify for and run the 10000m at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.
If You Were Wondering...
Of note: While it was a great day for Mikitenko and Yamauchi, many of the favorites failed to have good performances - Catherine Ndereba suffered from a painful blister on the bottom of her foot finished seventh in a 2:26:22. Gete Wami finished ninth in a 2:26:54. 2008 Paris Marathon winner Martha Komu dropped out before the 35K mark. Zhou Chunxiu finished twelfth in a 2;29:52. American Kate O'Neill finished 13th in 2:34:48 - forty-four seconds off her personal best from Chicago 2008.
1. Irina Mikitenko - 2:22:11 ($80,000)
2. Mara Yamauchi - 2:23:12 ($45,000)
3. Liliya Shobukova - 2:24:24 ($32,500)
4. Svetlana Zakharova - 2:25:06 ($15,000)
5. Berhane Adere - 2:25:30 ($12,500)
6. Inga Abitova - 2:25:55 ($10,000)
7. Catherine Ndereba - 2:26:22 ($6,500)
8. Tomo Morimoto - 2:26:29 ($5,500)
9. Gete Wami - 2:26:54 ($4,500)
10. Lyudmila Petrova - 2:27:42 ($2,000)