Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei elevated herself to the real elite of endurance running on Sunday, recording the fastest second half of a marathon ever seen as she destroyed the finest field in history to be crowned the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon champion.
The 25-year-old produced a veritable tour de force, clocking 2 hours 18 minutes 20 seconds – the ninth fastest run in history – to leave last year’s victor Vivian Cheruiyot trailing in second by nearly two minutes and preventing fifth-placed Mary Keitany from fulfilling her dream of a record-equalling fourth title.
Kosgei’s triumph stemmed from a fantastic second half of the race, which she covered in 66 minutes 42 seconds, quicker even than Keitany’s incredible 66:58 in New York last year.
And by running away from her two world-beating 30-something compatriots, Kosgei, the sixth different Kenyan winner of the women’s race in the last seven editions, confirmed herself as a major new force in marathon running following her triumph in Chicago last year.
In the 2018 edition of the race, Kosgei finished runner-up to the 35-year-old Cheruiyot, who stormed through the second half after the first had been run phenomenally quickly. This time, though, after a contrastingly pedestrian first 13.1 miles, it was Kosgei who emphatically turned the tables on the champion with a breathtaking performance.
She reckoned it wasn’t easy in the windy conditions over the first few miles but her second-half surges over the last nine miles, all run into the wind at just over five-minute mile pace, made it look that way as she repelled a courageous fightback from Cheruiyot after one break by then surging away again to victory over the last four-and-a-half miles.
“The wind was a problem for me to start with today, but not in the closing stages. It was hard for me to get my breath but I’m very happy to have done so well,” said Kosgei, who could celebrate a sixth win in her 10th marathon. “I’m extremely happy in my performance and everything went to plan.”
She crossed the line 1 minute 54 seconds clear of Cheruiyot (2:20:14), making it the biggest winning margin in the women’s race since Paula Radcliffe demolished the field in 2005.
Effectively, Kosgei had dominated the highest-quality women’s marathon in history, with three other Kenyan sub 2hr 19min runners in the field having to bow to the younger woman.
The hugely promising 21-year-old Ethiopian Roza Dereje (2:20:51) won the sprint on The Mall for third place to prevent a Kenyan podium sweep, outpacing the duo of three-time Berlin champion Gladys Cherono and Keitany, the greatest marathoner of her generation who, at 37, just never really looked in the form to achieve her quest of equalling Ingrid Kristiansen’s four titles.
Nobody wanted to push the pace over the first half, which left Kosgei frustrated. “I’m not happy because nobody wanted to push so I had to go alone towards the finish,” she explained.
And she was so focused on breaking the challenge and spirit of Cheruiyot that she didn’t even stop to take on water at the drink stations. “I don’t want water to drink, I felt happy,” she explained, as her rivals definitely didn’t look happy.
Not that Cheruiyot had any complaints about losing her crown. “In athletics, it’s mine today, tomorrow it’s for another person. Brigid was stronger than me.”
In contrast to last year’s blistering early pace, the main contenders set off far more conservatively, running nearly two minutes slower than in 2018 over the opening 10 kilometres.
The first to shine on a cool, windy morning was 42-year-old Australian Sinead Diver who looked impatient to push on the pace and, helped by pacemaker Eunice Chumba, forged on to open up a 16-second lead over all the main contenders at halfway in 71 minutes 21 seconds.
In 2018, the leaders had covered the same distance over four minutes quicker but it was still uncharted territory for the Australian veteran, who was soon roped in at the 14-mile mark as the pace was upped and the real race, featuring all four Kenyan favourites, began to unfold.
The leading group of six was quickly broken up as Cheruiyot, Kosgei and Roza Dereje inserted a blistering burst, covering the 15th, 16th and 17th miles in 15:22, effectively ending Keitany’s hopes.
Kosgei made what looked like an early but decisive push for home over the next two miles, opening up a significant 30m gap, trying to run the speed out of the Olympic 5000m champion’s legs.
Yet Cheruiyot, unfazed by her rival’s scintillating sub-five minute 18th mile, was back on terms within two miles, leaving the pair in an absorbing side-by-side duel until the in-form Kosgei surged once again, while throwing in a 22nd mile in 5:05 to again surge clear.
This time, the move was decisive as she poured on the pressure over the closing miles.
Yet Kosgei was convinced we have not seen the best of her yet. “I will run better than I have today,” she smiled.