FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2008 Men's Race Report
LONDON - (April 13, 2008) - The 100th anniversary of the marathon was
marked in the most fitting way this morning when Martin Lel won his third
Flora London Marathon title and led three men under 2:06 for the greatest
in-depth men's marathon in history.
In the city where the marathon distance of 26 miles 385 yards was first
established at the 1908 Olympics, Lel joined Mexico's Dionicio Ceron and
Antonio Pinto of Portugal as a triple London winner, retaining his crown
and breaking the six-year-old course record in 2:05:15.
In the closing stages of one of the quickest races in history, run at world
record pace for 20 miles, Lel somehow still had the energy for a flying
sprint at the finish. He needed it, for his young compatriot Sammy Wanjiru
and Abderrahim Goumri, the Moroccan who'd finished second last year, stuck
with him through the last few wet and gruelling miles.
But the Kenyan proved yet again that he has the strongest finish in
marathon racing as he pulled away over the last quarter of a mile to break
his personal best by almost a minute and a half. In only his second full
marathon, Wanjiru finished second in 2:05:24, clipping 75 seconds from his
best, with Goumri third in 2:05:30, a massive 2 minutes 14 seconds inside
With another Kenyan, Emmanuel Mutai, clocking 2:06:15 in fourth, USA's Ryan
Hall fifth in 2:06:17, and the Ethiopian Deriba Merga sixth in 2:06:38,
this was also the first time that six men have run under 2:07. All six set
new personal bests.
"To win this race you have to work extra hard," said the delighted Lel
afterwards. "There were lots of runners in the field who could come first.
So the chance of winning two in a row is very long.
"This is one of the best races I have done. Now I want to come back next
year and make it three in a row."
With five of the elite field all from Kenya, the race was dubbed an
unofficial Kenyan Olympic trial, and afterwards Lel learned that he'd
sealed selection. With his performance here Wanjiru must surely have won
his place on the Beijing start line too. He certainly thinks so.
"I've got 2:05 so now I can go the Olympics," was the smiling 21-year-old's
For Goumri, second last year and again in New York last November, there was
ample compensation in knowing he had broken Khalid Khannouchi's Moroccan
While the women had started cautiously, the men set off at a pelt in near
perfect conditions – 11°C and sunny. The pacemakers Dieudonne Didi of
Rwanda and Cuthbert Nyasango from Zimbabwe led through mile one in 4:44,
They'd been asked to run at 2:05 pace (62:30 at half way), and they already
seemed intent on living up to that promise.
The only leading name not in touch early on was Stefano Baldini, but the
Olympic champion – usually a master tactician – had asked for 2:08 pacing
and opted to run alone in the early stages.
It was a wise decision, for the leaders sped through miles two and three in
4:39 and 4:27. Lel, wearing a hat, must have wondered what was happening as
they passed 5km in 14:21, already inside world record pace. By now Luke
Kibet, the world champion, was already five seconds down on the leading
group, while Baldini was 40s adrift, content to run his own race.
Up ahead nine of the world's best, plus the two pacers, continued to steam
along through the sunny streets of south east London. Wanjiru was prominent
alongside Lel, with Hall, Merga, Goumri, Mutai, Felix Limo of Kenya, Yonas
Kifle of Eritrea and Hendrick Ramaala, the South African struggling
slightly at the rear.
They clipped through 10km in 29:10 and at eight miles were still on course
for something incredible time of around 2:03. No one had gone this quick
Hall sensibly stalked the Africans as they passed 15km in 44:00 and 10
miles in 47:12. Despite the blistering speed, however, Lel never looked
troubled; indeed, he even appeared to be holding himself back.
They passed half way in a spectacular 62:14, well inside world record pace,
and one of the quickest first halves ever seen. But then the numbers began
to dwindle as first Ramaala, then Limo struggled to hold on.
The pacemakers slipped away at 30km (1:28:29) and Hall soon began to wilt.
Wanjiru took up the front-running duties, reducing the leading group to
five, with Lel, Mutai, Kifle and Goumri on the young Kenyan's heels. At 18
miles they were still seven seconds inside Gebrselassie's record pace, with
4:45 miles needed during the run-in to beat his mark.
But the long run for home from the Docklands to Westminster would be into a
headwind, and oncoming cold rain.
The weather clearly had an affect for the 21st mile was the first to slip
outside five minutes (5:05), allowing Hall to rejoin the leaders. With the
rain in their faces the pace slowed through the 5km to 35km (1:43:54) as
the pace fell outside world record schedule for the first time.
Hall's efforts were to no avail as he and Mutai lost touch while Goumri,
Lel, Merga and Wanjiru powered on along the rain-sodden Highway towards the
Tower and down onto the Embankment.
The two Kenyans ran stride for stride, with Goumri and Merga tucked in
behind. Merga was the first to crack as they rain eased, while Lel, his hat
long-since discarded, looked around him, checking his opponents.
He must have been licking his lips. He had defeated Goumri in a sprint
finish twice last year, and he outsprinted Wanjiru to win the Great North
Run last autumn. After such a quick race, remarkably, the champion still
looked like a Sunday morning jogger, dodging the puddles.
He made his first move in Birdcage Walk, and Goumri lost two metres as the
Kenyans geared up for the sprint. Lel led round the corner past Buckingham
Palace and struck for home. Wanjiru was finished as Lel blasted for the
line like a fast-finishing miler to break Khannouchi's course record.
Lel's last 385 yards was timed at 57 seconds as the first three set the
fifth, sixth and seventh quickest times ever. Lel, already well-known as a
champion racer, is now one of the world's quickest, sitting fourth behind
Gebreselassie, Paul Tergat and Sammy Korir on the world all-time list.
Further back, world champion Kibet finished 11th in 2:12:13, and Baldini
out-battled Britain's Dan Robinson to finish 12th in 2:13:06, a bad day for
Robinson, 13th in 2:13:10, a new personal best by 43 seconds, clinched his
spot in Britain's Olympic Games team.
"As the champion I was under pressure to do something today," said Lel
later. "They asked for something and I gave something. We had a chance to
break the world record. A chance."
"The guy is just faster than me," said the beaten Goumri. "But it was a
great race." Indeed, it was.