Was it even a contest? Or should the rest of the marathon world simply call, “No mas.”?
Today, in London, England Kenya’s marathon master Eliud Kipchoge constructed another dominate performance at one of his two home courses (Berlin is the other) at the 39th Virgin Money London Marathon.
On a breezy but cool morning in the English capital, the now four-time London Champion controlled the race from starter Andy Murray’s airhorn onward.
Taking his time as if a country gentleman out walking his dogs, Kipchoge put away his final three Ethiopian challengers along the Thames River in the final two miles and crossed the line in 2:02:37. It marked a London course record and second all-time performance over the marathon distance behind his own 2:01:39 world record in Berlin last fall.
At age 34, the former world track champion at 5000 meters some 16 years ago now has won 11 of 12 career marathons, and holds the two fastest times ever run, plus his unofficial 2:00:25 exhibition in Monza, Italy two years ago.
For all the hype the race generated, in the end it was business as usual. Kipchoge undisputed world #1, everyone else vying for #2.
Even when the three main pacesetters were arrayed across the front leading the pack out onto the flat but twisting course, Eliud Kipchoge was the one tucked in close riding in the catbird seat, while his proposed rival and local favorite, Sir Mo Farah, lingered in back at the tail end of the pack.
By halfway (1:01:37), Mo was already adrift with former two-time champion (2012, 2014) Wilson Kipsang while five Ethiopians – Mosinet Geremew, Mule Wasihun, Shura Kitata, Tamiret Tola, and Leul Gdbresilassie – stuck close on Kipchoge’s heels.
Of the five, Mosinet Geremew, 2018 Dubai Marathon champion and Chicago runner up, looked most likely to challenge, as he remained tightly tucked onto Eliud’s left shoulder, eyes down, powder dry.
From my counting, the four leaders were all wearing Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes.
When the final pacer pulled off at 25K, Eliud assumed the lead like he was heading up a reception line at Buckingham Palace, natural as natural could be.
Kipchoge even suggested with an open palm that the others might assist with the pace. How generous. But after a 14:13 5K split from 20 to 25k, the pace was already dangerous enough as it was.
30-35k fell in 14:26 (1:27:04, 2:02:36 marathon pace). Mo Farah was now 24-seconds in arrears running alone, his loping stride still not compact enough to take on the more efficient striding leaders at this distance and pace.
Beyond 35K (1:41:55, 14:51 last 5km) last year’s London and NYC runner up Shura Kitata began looking ragged. All three Ethiopians had their mouths open now as their carburetors sought more oxygen to fire their sputtering engines. Eliud looked as composed as an Easter Island statue.
When blue-clad Geremew crossed himself twice as the race moved into its final two miles, I wondered if that was asking the Lord for help as he prepared for a bold move, or just help to stay on the podium.
As in every other marathon he’s run except his second – which was his only loss, 2:04:05 to Wilson Kipsang’s 2:03:23 world record in Berlin 2013 – Kipchoge was never put under any pressure.
Alongside the final stretch of the Thames River before the course turned right toward the finish at the Mall, Eliud began to turn the screw as the clock reached 1:54:15.
In a nonce, Mule Wasihun faltered in his Abbott World Marathon Majors debut. Less than a minute later, slim-limbed Mosinet Geremew broke, as well, even as Kipchoge moved left nonchalantly to snatch his last aid bottle with what had to represent frustrating ease to his opponents.
The two Ethiopians could only maintain their fine-line effort, eyes riveted on the gray road ahead. Any deviation off that line at this time could prove disastrous.
It was truly a Master Class in marathoning. Never did Eliud seem pressured, never troubled, never under duress. There was more left at the end, too. When race official Glen Latimer tried to line the podium placers up for a photo at the finish line, Geremew and Wasihun were still a bit wobbly dealing with the physical toll that had been exacted, while Kipchoge seemed fully recovered, unruffled, his smile wide and bright.
If people were looking for a career crossroads in London 2019, they didn’t get it. Instead, the Kipchoge River just kept on rolling along heading toward Tokyo 2020 where history will once again be his for the taking.
- Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) – 2:02:37
- Mosinet Geremew (ETH) – 2:02:55
- Mule Wasihun (ETH) – 2:03:16
- Shura Kitata (ETH) – 2:05:01
- Mo Farah (GBR) – 2:05:38