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London basks in marathon glory

Marathon winners Radcliffe, left, and Khannouchi
Marathon winners Radcliffe, left, and Khannouchi  

LONDON, England -- Up to 32,000 people are taking part in the London Marathon, making up a field thought to be the best in the history of any big-city race.

Apart from attracting some of the world's best athletes, it attracted Britain's top club runners competing, international runners of various abilities, wheelchair racers, keen amateurs and fun runners dedicated to fundraising.

In the serious running Moroccan-born American Khannouchi won the men's race with a new world record time of 2:05:38, while Britain's Paula Radcliffe, racing in her first ever marathon, took the women's title in 2:18:56.

Sunday's event, the British capital's 22nd annual race, was officially started by the Duke of York following a minute's silence in memory of the Queen Mother.

The latter field featured many participants wearing an array of fancy dress costumes, out to have fun and just be happy to complete the 26.2-mile (42.2km) course.

An estimated 500,000 spectators lined the route to cheer on the runners and millions more were watching on TV.

The oldest male and female entrants were 92-year-old Fauja Singh, from Essex, near London, and 90-year-old Jenny Wood-Allen from Dundee, Scotland.

Singh credited his remarkable fitness level down to meditation, fresh food, his favourite ginger curry and a daily training schedule.

Khannouchi crosses the line and breaks his own world record
Khannouchi crosses the line and breaks his own world record  

As the river of runners passed the Cutty Sark at the six mile point in Greenwich, south east London, the crowd was five-deep in places, with people standing on walls and climbing up lampposts to get a view of the action.

Further on, outside Millwall fire station in east London, there was a carnival atmosphere, with music pumping out of local pubs and spectators crowded the streets to get a glimpse of the runners.

Dave Terry, 56, said: "This is British sport at its best. You can watch the action and you're only a few yards away from the pub."

Student Andrew Turner, 19, said: "I can't believe they're going so fast. There's some real talent out there, although I suspect it will be many hours before some of the slower athletes come past."

Khannouchi, 30, broke his own marathon world record to win the race 10 seconds ahead of Kenya's Paul Tergat.

Khannouchi broke away from Tergat -- runner-up for the second successive year at 2:05:48 -- with less than a mile remaining.

Khannouchi said: "It was very tough. Everybody has to work so hard to win and thank God I had the strength to win.

"I probably had more strength and mentally I was a bit tougher than the others -- but we all had a very good race."

On his world record, he added: "I said before if we had good weather and competition I think we had a chance (of breaking it). Everything was perfect."

Race favourite Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia, who holds 15 world records, led for most of Sunday's race but fell behind at around the two hour mark leaving.

However, his finish time of 2:06:33 second was the fastest debut marathon ever.

The Ethiopian stunned his rivals when he claimed prior to the start that he was aiming to smash the world record of 2:05.42 clocked by Khannouchi in Chicago three years ago.

Radcliffe was taking part in her first marathon
Radcliffe was taking part in her first marathon  

Radcliffe won the women's event in her first competitive race at the distance, clocking a European record time of 2:18:56.

She was just a few seconds slower than the world record of 2:18:47 set by Kenya's Catherine Ndereba in Chicago.

The 28-year-old, who won the World Cross Country Championships a few weeks ago, smashed the British record and became the second-fastest female marathon runner ever.

Before the race, Radcliffe said her main aim was to complete a marathon personal best and to beat her father's best marathon time.

She said afterwards: "My legs are very tired but the rest of me is really pleased.

"I was close to the world record but I didn't realise how close until the end. I've given it everything. I couldn't have done it any faster.

"I felt very relaxed and very confident until about 16 miles. Although I went through a rough patch the crowd were brilliant. They picked me up by the Cutty Sark and again at London Bridge.

"Then near the end I knew I had a two-minute lead and I did not think I would lose that."

Britain scored a double success in the wheelchair races, winning both the men's and women's events.

David Weir won the men's race in a time of 1:39:44, while Tanni Grey-Thompson won the women's race for the sixth time, just two months after giving birth a baby daughter.


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