Shura Kitata secured an unlikely victory in the London Marathon as world record holder and pre-race favorite Eliud Kipchoge faded in the closing stages.
The Ethiopian finished in a time of two hours, five minutes and 41 seconds in a dramatic sprint finish that saw him edge out Kenya’s Vincent Kipchumba and compatriot Sisay Lemma.
Kipchoge, who last failed to win a major marathon when he finished second in Berlin in 2013, struggled in a race he has won on four previous occasions and eventually placed eighth having dropped from the lead group with just under three miles to go.
He later said he had suffered from a blocked right ear in the second half of the race and would come back stronger.
In the women’s race, Brigid Kosgei defended her title, winning in a time of two hours, 18 minutes and 58 seconds – close to five minutes outside the world record she set in Chicago last year.
The 40th London Marathon, which had been moved from its original April date and only staged the elite races due to the coronavirus pandemic, was held on a modified course – 19.6 laps of St James’s Park in the shadow of Buckingham Palace rather than the usual route that snakes around East and Central London.
Wet and cold conditions contributed to slower times than usual, but few could have predicted that Kipchoge, the greatest marathon runner of all time, would finish more than five minutes outside his world record in the men’s race.
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After Kenenisa Bekele, who was expected to challenge for the title, pulled out of the race with a calf injury on Friday, Kipchoge was expected to cruise to victory,
But the Kenyan fell off the pace with two laps to go and the trio of Kitata, Kipchumba and Lemma were all neck and neck on the final straight before 24-year-old Kitata, who finished second to Kipchoge in 2018 and fourth last year, out-kicked his rivals and crossed the line just a second ahead of Kipchumba and four seconds in front of Lemma.
In the women’s race, which started at 7:15 a.m. local time, Kosgei, was a comfortable winner as she finished more than three minutes clear of American Sara Hall in second.
The Kenyan had run much of the race alongside Ruth Chepngetich, but dropped her compatriot at the 20-mile mark.
The conditions in London meant there was little chance of Kosgei getting close to her record of two hours, 14 minutes and four seconds – something she acknowledged after the race.
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“The weather affected us today,” 26-year-old Kosgei said.
“There was some wind and rain all the way, which made our muscles colder. No one could warm up so it was difficult to even finish.
“I didn’t have anything planned, but I felt good. I felt my body wanted to move, but my legs could not move, so I tried my best … If there was no rain, and the weather was good it would be good to try again on this course.”
Hall enjoyed an impressive run to finish second having worked her way through the field before passing world champion Chepngetich in a sprint finish. She is the first American woman to finish on the podium at London in 14 years.
“It was a very surreal moment, my husband was going nuts,” said Hall of overtaking Chepngetich late on.
“I’m so thankful he was able to be here – he was telling me how far back I was on the last couple of laps from third and then second. I just felt amazing out there.”
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This year’s London Marathon was unlike any previously seen.
As well as the rearranged date, the new course and the cancellation of the mass event, competitors stayed in a bio-secure bubble at a hotel outside London.
Situated in 40 acres of ground, the athlete-only hotel gave the elites a place to train in the build-up to the race when they also undertook a number of tests for Covid-19.
Athletes were also given devices to help enforce social-distancing – wearable technology that alerts the individual when they get too close to another person.
Although there was no mass participation, more than 45,000 runners are expected to complete a 26.2-mile route of their choice on Sunday.