LONDON — Kenya continued its dominance of the world’s big-city marathons on Sunday as Wilson Kipsang won the London Marathon in 2 hours, 4 minutes and 44 seconds, only four seconds off the course record.
And Mary Keitany of Kenya won the women’s race for the second consecutive year, finishing in 2 hours 18 minutes and 37 seconds and shattering the Kenyan national record by more than a minute. Kipsang, who has run the second-fastest marathon in 2:03:42, made a decisive move with a 4:41 split in Mile 21 and ran alone to the end of the race for a dominant victory.
He will be considered a favorite at the London Olympics in August, though his selection to the Kenyan team is not yet official. Martin Lel, a three-time London champion from Kenya, outsprinted Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia in the final 200 meters to take second in 2:06:51. Kebede finished third, a second behind in 2:06:52. A big surprise occurred before the midway point when Patrick Makau of Kenya, the world-record holder in 2:03:38, pulled off to the side and later dropped out.
His chances of participating in the London Games are now uncertain. The same holds for Abel Kirui, the two-time world champion from Kenya, who finished sixth in 2:07:56 The East African nation swept all three top women’s spots. Edna Kiplagat, the 2011 world champion, finished second in 2:19:50 and Priscah Jeptoo was third in 2:20:14. Keitany ran patiently on Sunday, drawing away in the last four miles, a sharp contrast to the New York City marathon in November where she went out bravely but perhaps recklessly on a world record pace but faded to third.
She will now be considered the favorite at the London Games, her naming to the team only a formality. No Kenyan woman has won the Olympic marathon since the event began at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. Catherine Ndereba, the former Kenyan record holder at 2:18:47, took the silver medal in 2004 and 2008. On a cool, sunny day, Keitany became the third faster all-time performer among women in the marathon. Only Paula Radcliffe of England, the world-record holder in 2:15:15 (who also has two other finishes under 2:18) and Lililya Shobukhova of Russia (2:18:20) have run faster.
Shobukhova had been considered a marathon favorite in London, but she has dropped out of two shorter races recently, complaining of a hamstring injury, and has not competed since she set her personal best last fall in Chicago. Sunday’s race served as a kind of Olympic trials for the Kenyans. Six men and women have been placed on a provisional list for the London Games, but the actual selection process has been imprecise.
A decision is expected by the end of the month. This becomes an urgent issue, given that Makau, who set the world record last fall in Berlin, could not finish Sunday’s race, and Kirui, the two-time world champion, was a distant sixth. “They should consider many things apart from running London,” Makau said at a news conference on Wednesday, perhaps signaling that he was not in top form. Kenyan men won their first gold medal in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Games. Sammy Wanjiru set an Olympic record in 2:06:32 and changed the way the marathon is run, fast from the beginning.
But Wanjiru died last May after a fall from a balcony at his home under circumstances that have never been fully resolved. Still, Kenyans remain confident of repeating at the London Games, though the Olympic route will be a loop course full of turns. The longest straightaway will be less than half a mile long, which will not permit an undisturbed galloping pace. Also, the protracted, vague selection process will leave the Kenyans with what is considered only a minimum amount of time — just over 100 days — to recover for the Olympic marathon. (The United States, for instance, held its Olympic marathon trials in January.) On Sunday, Kipsang and Lilesa seemed to have the race to themselves after running Mile 14 in a searing 4:28. But Kirui reeled them in and caught up in Mile 15.
But he could not hold on, and faded out of contention. In the women’s race, Keitany quickly tucked behind the pacemakers and waited to pounce. An early casualty Sunday was the Ethiopian star Ejegayehu Dibaba. She won a silver medal at 10,000 meters at the 2004 Athens Games. Last October in Chicago, she ran her first marathon and finished second in 2:22:09, the third-fastest debut time by a woman. But she left Sunday’s race at about 12 miles, leaving the rival East African women from Kenya to sort out the top placements.
The race went through the midway point in 1:10:53 as Keitany bided her time. By Mile 22, she and Kiplagat had separated from the rest of the field, Keitany short and compact, Kiplagat taller, her elbows swinging wide. Then Keitany put her foot on the accelerator, drawing away with a 5:06 split in Mile 23, the fastest of the race. Her decisive move continued with a 5:00 split in Mile 24, opening a 16-second lead over Kiplagat that expanded to more than a minute.