London

Men's race report

Martin Lel (Ken) regained the Flora London Marathon title in style today, showing that the 26.2 mile distance can be as much about speed as it is endurance.

Lel won in 2:07:41, three seconds ahead of Abderrahim Goumri (Mar) with last year's champion, Felix Limo (Ken), third in 2:07:44.

It was race which was started by pop star Ronan Keating and how fitting that he should send the men runner's on their way. One of his biggest chart hits was Life Is A Rollercoaster, and what a change in career fortune Haile Gebrselassie (Eth) suffered once more in this race.

A double Olympic track champion, Gebrselassie, one of the sport's legends, was forced to stop at the 20 mile mark suffering from a stitch when he looked in a good position to make a serious challenge.

As usual, the men's race sparked the glorious image of the 35,000 club, charity and fun runners behind them. But at the business end of proceedings - in terms of the elite - the men's race took on an extraordinary theme.

David Bedford, the Race Director of the Flora London Marathon, had assembled the best men's field in history and the event did not disappoint. It was close from the beginning until the last stages when four men were left challenging in Birdcage Walk, bringing the marathon down to the sort of sprint you might expect on a track race.

In the hot conditions, there was never going to be the chance of an attempt at the world record of 2:04:55 held by Paul Tergat (Ken).

Tergat, double world champion Jaouad Gharib (Mar) and Stefano Baldini (Ita), the Olympic champion, were among the elite athletes which not only made this race such a fantastic prospect but left it so tough to call as to whom might win. Three men pacemakers were assigned to reach the halfway point in 62:45 and Paul Kimugul (Ken), Wilfred Taragon (Ken) and Patrick Makau (Ken) led a field of 14 for the opening miles, taking them through in 4:56, 4:59, 4:39 as the men headed towards the 5km mark with Limo being the first of the group.

There was just 0.02 between Baldini, in 10th position, and him but it was not to prove an afternoon to remember for the Italian because he was out of contention within another 5km. He dropped out after 28km with cramp. As the race progressed, the lead, behind the pacemakers, was swapping hands at regular intervals with all of the main players taking turns to be in front,

At 10km, Hendrik Ramaala (RSA) was recorded ahead with 30:11 but behind him Gharib, Gebrselassie and Limo all had the same time.
Gebrselassie was running London for the third occasion and he was determined to add this title to his list of amazing honours. He had finished third in 2002, on his international marathon debut, and he was ninth last year and he was looking comfortable. Wearing black stockings, he was in the sort of mood, it seemed, where he might dictate the race as he sought his fourth victory over the distance to go alongside his triumphs in Amsterdam, Berlin and Fukuoka. But no-one could predict what lie ahead.

As the pacemakers were chasing their target, the race saw its first split when Limo led a pack of eight, including Tergat and Khalid Khannouchi (USA), the London champion in 2002 when he won in a world record of 2:05:38.

Ryan Hall (USA), making his marathon debut in a year where his half-marathon time of 59:43 from January makes him the fastest non-African at that distance, was at the helm of the group behind.

The men passed through halfway at 63:39, 54 seconds slower than asked for but, as with the women, conditions were playing a greater part. At this point, Goumri took over. He had not been talked about as having a major say but like Gharib, he is coached by Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Mar), the 1999 and 2001 London champion.

Then, from nowhere, there was drama at just past 30km when Gebrselassie, who had been in seventh place, stopped. He stood by the side of the road in Canary Wharf, lent against a crash barrier and was breathing heavily. He could not go on and said: �"I had a stitch. I'm not injured I just could not breathe. It's not the heat, maybe it is something I ate, but I do not know."

Hall, 24, showed what a big future he has in the event by going to the front of this world class field and though he led at 35km, he could not maintain that position as the runners reached the Embankment with less than three miles left.

There was a group of six: Lel, Limo, Gharib, Goumri, Tergat and Ramaala. It quickly was reduced to five when Tergat dropped away and then as the runners left Big Ben behind them, it was down to four when Ramaala slipped out of contention. Who would triumph? It was still not possible to tell, but as the quartet turned into the final 200m, Lel kicked on and though Goumri went with him, he was never going to catch him.

Lel, who had been beaten in a sprint by Limo 12 months earlier, said: �""I corrected the mistakes from last year and I had to be careful to preserve my energy.

�"Last year I made a great mistake when I did not have enough left at the finish and I could not react.

�"But today was one of the most tactical races I have run. I am proud with this win because there were several champions running."

Gharib said: �"At 40km, I said to myself that I should win this race. But Gharib kicked on and it took a great deal out of me."

Limo said: �"I had been planning to get a drink at 40km but Gharib was blocking my way - not intentionally - and I had to retreat to take it. But it was a great race."

Jon Brown, Britain's No 1 ranked marathoner, pulled out on the morning of the race with illness. Dan Robinson, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, was Britain's leading man. He finished ninth in 2:14:14 having spent the majority of this Sunday morning all alone.

The main field had broken away at six miles and Robinson said: �"The time is a solid enough performance with me. I do not mind running on my own. When you can see people it is not too bad and it has not been a bad day. But it is good to be the first Briton and I am reasonably satisfied."