Eliud Kipchoge confirmed his status as the greatest marathon runner of all time when he was crowned elite men’s champion for a record fourth time at the 39th Virgin Money London Marathon this morning, after a historic race started by Britain’s tennis superstar Sir Andy Murray.
It was billed as a bout between the reigning champion and another of Britain’s sporting knights, Sir Mo Farah, but the European record holder struggled to play a major role as king Kipchoge shrugged off three dogged rivals to smash his own course record with a winning time of 2:02:37.
Kipchoge made London Marathon history as he became the first man to complete the men’s quadruple in London, adding yet another superlative to a glittering marathon CV that includes four Berlin titles and Olympic gold.
No one has ever run quicker on this course, and no race has ever been faster bar Kipchoge’s own world record, run in Berlin last September.
After previous London victories in 2015 and 2016, the farmer from Kapsisiywa became the only man to notch up consecutive wins on two occasions as he defended his title in style, taking an 11th career win from 12 races over 26.2 miles and extending an undefeated streak that stretches back to September 2013.
“It feels strange to be considered the most successful elite man in racing,” said the ever-humble Kenyan afterwards. "I’m very, very happy to have won [this race] four times.
“It’s a surprise when everybody tells me I’ve made history, but I’m just pleased to be part of the £1 billion for charity event,” he added, dutifully referring to the London Marathon’s own record-breaking fundraising achievement.
Yet this wasn’t a parade for the 34-year-old Kenyan master, for he had to draw on all his racing nous and mental strength to secure the victory ahead of a trio of swift young Ethiopians, who stuck to his tail until the 40km point.
It was Mosinet Geremew who hung on longest and the 27-year-old was rewarded with a runner-up place and an Ethiopian record of 2:02:55 – the fastest ever second place time and third best of all-time, while Mule Wasihun also entered the world top 10, placing third in 2:03:16.
It was the first time in history two men have gone under 2:03 in the same race, as Geremew moved to second on the world all-time list.
As for Farah, the Chicago Marathon champion simply couldn’t stay with the pace. After finishing third in 2018, Farah again followed last year’s runner-up Shura Kitata under the gantry, placing fifth in 2:05:39, less than 30 seconds outside his European record.
“After 20 miles a gap was there that became harder to close,” said Farah. “I tried to reel them in but the wheels came off and I was just hanging on at the end. I’m disappointed because training’s gone well.”
Farah insisted his controversial build-up this week hadn’t affected his performance. Indeed, he seemed utterly relaxed at the Start Line, waving his arms to the crowd as his name was announced.
Pacemakers Eric Kiptanui, Stephen Kiprop and Gideon Kipketer led the pack away under overcast skies with Kipchoge immediately taking his customary spot a step behind.
He had set his sights on lowering his own course record of 2:03:05 and conditions were good for the challenge, with cool temperatures, light cloud and a moderate headwind – a welcome change from the record heat of 12 months ago.
The target was to reach halfway in 61 minutes 20 seconds and they were just behind schedule at 5km in 14:23, a steady start before they turned east through Woolwich, Kipchoge looking effortless in his hat, welcome protection against the chilly headwinds.
Kitata hung on to Kipchoge’s heels for all but the last two miles in 2018, and he seemed intent on doing the same this time, striding shoulder-to-shoulder with the master as nine men followed the pacers into Greenwich where they passed 10km in 29:01, matching Kipchoge’s split during his world record run last September.
Wasihun and Geremew were also prominent, while Farah was at the tail of the group, seemingly adopting the well-practiced tactics that have brought him four Olympic and six world titles on the track.
They hit 15km in 43:42, on a for sub-2:03 finish, and clipped past the 10-mile point in Rotherhithe in 46:52, Kipchoge’s focus fixed on the wall of pacers’ backs ahead of him.
That’s how it stayed as they swept through Bermondsey and swung right over Tower Bridge passing 20km in 58:25. There were still nine together as they hit half way in 61:37, but that soon changed as the leaders threw in a 4:32 mile and six opened a gap on the rest, leaving Farah four or five seconds adrift.
This was the first significant move of the race, a sustained surge at the front as Kipchoge shrugged off the pacemakers and took four Ethiopians with him onto the Isle of Dogs.
The king now had the quadruple in his sights and the course record in his legs. Still wearing white arms bands, the Kenyan looked as serene as ever, Kitata a step behind over his right shoulder, Geremew to his left and Wasihun between the two.
The champion gestured for one of them to do their bit at the front, but these were men hanging on at a pace no one has ever run here before. He took them into the twists and turns of Canary Wharf, and led the field through 30km in 1:27:04 after a 14:26 5km split, the quickest of the race.
The quartet of leaders turned into the westerly breeze with three podium places up for grabs. Again Kipchoge gestured for help; again his rivals refused. History beckoned for the world’s greatest, but they weren’t going to make it easy.
Behind them Britain’s greatest was trying to claw his way back into contention, now in fifth, 46 seconds off the pace as Kipchoge passed 35km in 1:41:55 (14:51) and headed down The Highway with a trio of shadows stuck to his heels.
Now it was a battle of mental and physical strength, and no one has more of both than Kipchoge. A year ago, Kitata was the last to hold on, sticking to Kipchoge till Blackfriars underpass. This time he was the first to slip back, but the world record holder still had two with him as they emerged onto Victoria Embankment.
He kicked again and Wasihun lost touch. He moved to his right to take a last welcome drink, and Geremew was gone. Kipchoge now opened his legs to pass 40km in 1:56:20 with a two-second lead after a 4:30 25th mile. At last a thin smile began to show on his face and he knew the race was his.
Yet again, he’d led from start to finish; yet again, he’d proved to be supreme. Now running freely in glorious isolation, he strode through Parliament Square, around St James’s Park and onto The Mall, saluting the cheering crowds on both sides as he broke the tape with his arms outstretched at his sides.
“It was a very tactical race as everyone was there,” he said. "But I know how to win this race and I was confident. I didn’t feel it was in doubt at any point.
“The crowd in London is wonderful. In the last kilometer, when everyone is shouting, it’s just amazing. It made me so happy to cross the line.”
Behind the medallists, Farah’s training partner Bashir Abdi took the Belgian record with 2:07:03, while Callum Hawkins was the second Briton home in a huge personal best of 2:08:14, clinching World Championship and Tokyo Olympic qualification in the process.