Wanjiru sets course record in London marathon
LONDON (Reuters) - Olympic gold medallist Sammy Wanjiru overcame a spirited late challenge after a savage early pace to win the men's London marathon Sunday in a course record two hours five minutes 10 seconds.
Wanjiru, 22, broke the mark set by Kenyan team mate Martin Lel last year by five seconds after repulsing a determined victory bid from Ethiopia's Beijing bronze medallist Tsegaye Kebede.
Lel withdrew from the race Saturday after a soft tissue hip injury failed to respond to treatment.
Defending champion Irina Mikitenko retained the women's title with an assured victory over Briton Mara Yamauchi in 2:22:11.
Yamauchi recorded a personal best 2:23:12 to provide the enthusiastic crowds packing the streets of London with ample consolation for the absence through injury of world record holder Paula Radcliffe.
Wanjiru, the first Kenyan to win an Olympic marathon gold, stayed with the pacemakers as they took the field through the first half of the 42.195-km race in a searing 61 minutes 35 seconds.
It was the fastest halfway split time ever recorded in a marathon and the effort required to stay in the leading group inevitably took its toll as the field emerged from London's docklands on a bright, sunny spring morning.
Wanjiru seized his moment to break the leading pack at 29 km and the race then resolved into a battle between the three Olympic medallists.
Kebede trailed Wanjiru over the final kilometres with silver medallist and twice world champion Jaouad Gharib a place further back.
Roared on by the thousands of spectators crammed on to the London streets, Kebede started to make ground on Wanjiru, who glanced anxiously several times over his shoulder.
The Kenyan responded with one final surge to cross the line 10 seconds ahead of Kebede with Gharib holding on for third. Wanjiru is now the seventh fastest man on the all-time list.
The Kenyan said he had been happy with the pace and would have been even happier if the pacemakers had continued to around the 35-km mark.
"It was a very tough finish," he told reporters. "Over the final 200 metres I felt I could win. To get the course record is fabulous but all I wanted to do was win."
Kebede added: "At 40 kilometres I felt a pain in my side but I felt I had to keep on."
The women's race was soon reduced to a three-way battle between Mikitenko, Yamauchi and Chinese Olympic bronze medallist Zhou Chunxiu.
Zhou dropped off the pace at 27 km and Mikitenko made her move five km later, steadily increasing her lead over Yamauchi. Russian Liliya Shobukhova emerged from the chasing pack to take third place on her marathon debut.
Mikitenko, 36, who emigrated to Germany from Kazakhstan, has now won three out of the four marathons she has entered since graduating from the track but missed Beijing because of a back injury.
She finished second in her first marathon in Berlin in 2007, won in London last year and then became the fourth fastest woman ever when she clocked 2:19:19 in Berlin last year. Her victory secured her the 2007/8 world marathon majors title and prize money of $500,000.
"From the psychological point of view I felt it was tougher than last year," Mikitenko said. "At 25 kilometres I knew that I would be able to win against Mara as I'm the better middle distance runner."
(Editing by Sonia Oxley; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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