London Won in 2:05:19

      A review of Sunday’s London Marathon from Ross Tucker of the Science of Sport website:

London 2010 – splits and comments

Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia has gone one better than in 2009, and has won the 2010 London Marathon in 2:05:19. The race was unlike London Marathons in recent memories, because it didn’t come down to a big group of men with 5km to go.  Instead, the damage was done soon after halfway, when a 5km split of 14:26 split the elite group wide open.

This surge accounted for Sammy Wanjiru, Duncan Kibet and Zersenay Tadese, three of the big, big favourites in the race.  They were blown right out of the group.  Instead, it was Emmanuel Mutai, Abel Kirui, Jaouad Gharib and Tsegay Kebede who emerged at the front.  The next 5km, from 25km to 30km, was covered in 14:27, giving the elite men a split of 28:53 between 20km and 30km.

That is of course a fierce pace, but it was surprising that the elite field was so fragmented by this pace.  Certainly, Tadese, Wanjiru and Kibet have the capacity to run the pace, but today were simply outclassed.  It’s not even as though they hung onto it for a short time, they were completely shot out the back of the group.

Kebede, on the other hand, thrived, and he covered the 21st mile in 4:33, which accounted for the brave efforts of Abel Kirui.  From that point on, Kebede was unchallenged, and his lead grew progressively.  The eventual margin of victory was 1:04, over Emmanuel Mutai, who caught a dying Kirui for his best London finish.  Gharib of Morocco finished strongly for third.  Kirui, meanwhile, paid for his efforts, finishing fifth.

As for those other favourites, at the time of writing, only Tadese finished, well down and looking well beaten.  Wanjiru and Kibet presumably stepped off the road somewhere between halfway and 30km, to fight another day.  For Wanjiru, it’s a first disappointing performance in a major marathon.  For Kibet and Tadese, it’s two-in-a-row, following last year’s failures in Berlin and London, respectively.

I’m sure there will be much discussion of what happened in the aftermath – perhaps back troubles for Wanjiru, plus the travel difficulties, will come up.  For Tadese, I just wonder if he’s got the training figured out.  How someone with a 58:23 half-marathon is be dropped just after halfway when the time is 63:10 is beyond me.

Women’s race

On the women’s side, it went more according to script, both in terms of the pace and the way it unfolded.  Early on, the pace was solid – on course for a low 2:22.  The pace started faster than this, and then dropped progressively up to the halfway point, where the pacemaker stepped aside.

Then it was Liliya Shobukova of Russia who took the lead, and continued to reel off 3:20s per kilometer, keeping the 2:22 within sight.  That was enough to progressively thin the field, with the resistance provided by Bekele and Mergia of Ethiopia, and Abitova of Russia.

Mergia threw in a big surge of her own at about 36km, and this accounted for Bekele and, for a short time, Abitova.  Shobukhova, however, looked untroubled and stayed with Mergia until the intensity dropped off. Then Abitova began to close the gap, and Shobukhova made the final, decisive move.  She moved away at 40km and went unchallenged to the line, finishing in 2:22:04.

It was actually a much closer race than the men’s side, and Shobukhova gets my nod for the best performance of the day.  She was composed and in control the whole way.  After her searing finish in Chicago last year, you’d have forgiven her for following moves all day and waiting to the final 5km, but she didn’t – she controlled the pace, did much of the work and in the end, was simply too good for the competition.

Overall perspectives

We’ll give it much more thought and do our usual "race insights" post tomorrow, where we’ll look more closely at the pacing and performances of the main runners.  For now, though, my impression is that the men’s race didn’t live up to the hype.  Yes, it was brutally fast between 20 km and 30km, but I really did expect it to be closer.

Kebede was a deserved victor, but when you look at the times, and the fact that for example, 10th place was 2:16:38, then you would be surprised to learn that this was the strongest field ever assembled.  Perhaps too much was expected, but I certainly thought it would be the deepest race ever, and if you’d said that fifth would be outside 2:08, I’d have dismissed that without a thought.

On the women’s side, it was a better race, with more depth.  Most of the top women ran quite big PBs, and Shobukhova confirmed her status as the premier marathon runner at the moment.  Yes, the time was not spectacular at 2:22:04, but for competitive depth and quality, it lived up to the hype.