It could never live up to the pre-race hype, and in the end it didn’t. But the 2014 London Marathon was still fascinating to watch, producing worthy winners and generating plenty of talking points.
Both the men’s and women’s events had the same pre-race narrative: a track superstar making a marathon debut against the best in the world at that distance. Neither Mo Farah nor Tirunesh Dibaba, for all their class, were seriously expected to win, though ultimately Dibaba went closer.
The women’s race provided some early drama, as once again Tiki Gelana had a bad London Marathon. Last year the Olympic champion’s race was scuppered by a collision with a wheelchair athlete at 15 kilometres; this year she simply faded at 10 kilometres and never got back into contention.
Even more dramatic was the fate of race favourite Priscah Jeptoo, who stepped off the course somewhere around 18 miles. This left Dibaba alone against the more experienced Kenyan namesakes Florence and Enda Kiplagat at the business end of the race.
And experience, or lack thereof, made the difference. At several water stations Dibaba had to slow down and grab her bottle with both hands – and at a table around the 30-kilometre point she even dropped her bottle on the ground. Stopping to pick it up rather than go without on a warm day, Dibaba showed commendable common sense but lost ground to the Kiplagats that she never regained.
The women’s race went right down to a sprint on the Mall, as Edna came out from Florence’s slipstream to take the honours in 2:20:21. Dibaba came in third just 14 seconds behind – an impressive performance in her marathon debut.
The build-up to the men’s race was dominated by attention on Mo Farah – and in the days before the race, by his decision to run with the second group of pacers a few seconds behind the lead group under the command of Haile Gebrselassie.
While this was a sensible decision for a debut marathoner, in racing terms it proved to be a tactical error on Farah’s part. He may have banked on the leaders going out too fast and blowing up in the second half of the race, but in truth he lost sight of them and never looked like reeling them in, especially as the Great One took his group out at a blistering 2:02 pace.
By halfway, just after Tower Bridge, sense had been restored and the leaders went through at 62:30 for 2:05 pace, with Farah half a minute behind at 2:06 pace and still on course to break Steve Jones’ UK record of 2:07:13.
But the hometown hero had a torrid second half. In a similar incident to Dibaba’s turning point, Farah missed a water station just after halfway and seemed rattled by it – he looked and gestured with an air of panic and even seemed to be asking the motorbike cameraman to fetch a bottle for him. Meanwhile, his two pacers were 50 metres up the road and not much use to him up there. Farah was visibly hurting as he came to the last few miles, but on the Embankment caught up to a fading Emmanuel Mutai.
By this stage the decisive move had been made – Wilson Kipsang and Stanley Biwott had left the other leaders behind. Turning at Big Ben, Kipsang had pulled away from Biwott to give himself a comfortable cushion of time for the Mall run-in.
Kipsang took the win in a new course record of 2:04:29, with Biwott 26 seconds behind him and defending champion Tsegaye Kebede holding off his compatriot Ayele Abshero to claim third place.
As for Farah, he ran in for 8th place in 2:08:20, just two seconds behind the more experienced Geoffrey and Emmanuel Mutai.
While not achieving his stated goal of a new UK record, Farah certainly had a decent first marathon – after all, he finished with the two Mutais and well ahead of Olympic and World champion Stephen Kiprotich. And yet, the BBC commentary team of Steve Cram and Brendan Foster were quite blunt in saying that Farah should, in Foster’s words, “stick to the track”.
But, speaking to the BBC’s Jonathan Edwards immediately after the race, Farah seemed determined that he would run another marathon, with greater success. As for Dibaba, she was more circumspect about her future plans, noting that the marathon was different to the track as it had “more kilometres’.
So, Farah didn’t emulate last week’s fantastic 2:05:04 Paris Marathon victory by Kenenisa Bekele. But the much-anticipated Bekele-Farah duel for the 2016 Olympic Marathon might still happen.
Of course, before then a lot of water will pass under the bridge – though hopefully not from another mid-race water bottle dropped by Farah.