By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) – Kenya’s Geoffrey Kipkorir Kirui prevailed in a compelling east African duel with Ethiopian Tamirat Tola on the streets of London to win the men’s marathon at the World Athletics Championships on Sunday.
Kirui, victor at the Boston Marathon in April, finally broke Tola, the fastest man in the field, with five miles (8.05 km) of the 26.2-mile course left after they had gone head-to-head over the second half of the race.
At the 19-mile mark, Tola, the fastest man in the field, had made his decisive effort and sped away from the 24-year-old Kenyan but within two miles Kirui had hauled back the lead before surging away immediately and emphatically.
Kirui forged on so powerfully that by the end of the race as he came toward the line at Tower Bridge, he even had time to tap the hands of some of the hundreds of fans lining the finish.
“This is the best moment of my career, easily. I am so happy to win the world title because it is my first time at these championships,” Kirui said afterwards.
“This was the best course and the best crowd I have seen at a marathon.”
Kenya’s fifth men’s world champion at the distance eventually clocked 2 hours 8 minutes 27 seconds, finishing one minute and 22 seconds ahead of Tola (2:09:49).
The Ethiopian, who had tired rapidly after Kirui’s second wind, just held on for silver by two seconds from the fast-finishing Alphonce Simbu, who won Tanzania’s second medal ever at a World Championships.
Britain’s Callum Hawkins then earned the biggest cheers from the big crowds lining the streets when he came home in a remarkable fourth place in a lifetime best 2:10:17 amid familiar African domination.
Enthusiastic spectators were crammed 10 deep at key points along the four-lap route which started and finished at Tower Bridge and took in some of London’s most famous sights like the Tower of London.
The bells chimed at St Paul’s Cathedral and they rang out for Kirui when he surged home alone on the last circuit, to complete a remarkable breakthrough year.
He said he had not been expecting to triumph because Tola had run a dominant 2:04:11 in winning the Dubai marathon earlier in the year.
“I feared the Ethiopian because he had such a fast time, so I just followed my plan to 35km and then felt my body to see how I was doing. Good for me, it responded well. I was smart not to follow him,” added Kirui.
“Winning this title has been my goal for so long. Now my goal will be to repeat it.”
He had run a similar race in Boston, producing a late surge over the last few miles to destroy the opposition.
Now, in just his fourth marathon, he strode away majestically on an historic day when both the men’s and women’s races were staged, one after each other.
On a fine, sunny late morning, the field of 75 had to negotiate a tricky, windy course with tight turns, especially when the runners entered the business area of The City, with the real contenders just sparring over the first two laps.
With the field having gone through half-way in 1:05:28, though Tola, Kirui and another Kenyan Gideon Kipkemoi Kipketer opted to make the race-changing move as they forged ahead.
Three quickly became two as Kipketer began to pay and eventually trailed home fifth.
Meanwhile, the race favorite, Daniel Wanjiru, who had won the London Marathon in the spring run on a very different course, never looked comfortable, eventually finishing eighth.
The real shock, though, came from Hawkins who, evidently inspired by competing in his home championships, was perfectly happy to take up the pace over the first half of the race and then held on superbly to record the best-ever finish by a Briton in a world championship marathon.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Toby Davis)