LONDON, ENGLAND, October 02 — As she picked herself up off the pavement some 32 kilometers into the London Marathon it was quite apparent that Yalemzerf Yehualaw’s week was not going particularly well. The previous Sunday, she had lost her National Record to Tigist Assefa, then she hit a speed bump, literally, and went crashing to the unforgiving roadway, incurring bruised knees and hip.
Faced with this double whammy the 23-year-old Ethiopian handled the situation with aplomb, picking herself up, then really picking up the pace over the final 5K, for a break-away 2:17:26 win. She also gained the distinction of being the youngest women to ever win London.
Kenya’s defending champion Joyciline Jepkosgei came home 2nd in 2:18:07, and Ethiopian Alemu Megertu finished 3rd in 2:18:32.
“I feel very happy today,” Yehualaw enthused. “It’s so nice to win the London Marathon. I want to say thank you so much to all the people in London who supported me. I am so happy to win, but I’m surprised, because it’s such a great competition.”
Not so surprising as Yehualaw is no stranger to fast running and even early in her career she has run a 29:14 road 10K WR, 4 sub-65:00 half-marathons — including a 63:51 PR — and a 2:17:23 women’s debut record last April in Hamburg, in her first foray over 42km.
The fast running here started right from the gun as 8 racers followed the lead of a pacer blitzing the downhill opening 5K in 16:01, a 2:15:10 pace. The tempo slowed, but stayed hot as they passed 10K in 32:18, netting a 16:17 split and 2:16:17 pace.
The targeted pace of Mary Keitany’s 2:17:01 women-only WR, set here in ’17, slipped away with slowing 5K segments of 16:33 (15K in 48:51) and 16:34 to cross 20K in 65:25 (2:18:01 pace).
Some sense of urgency returned when the tempo quickened as the 7-woman pack scurried across the Tower Bridge to reach halfway in 68:46. The pace stayed hot through a 16:04 increment, splitting 1:21:29 at 25K, as the lone pacer retired after a job well done putting a talented pack on a projected 2:17:32 finish.
Ethiopian Sutume Kebede was more than ready to step into the pacer void as she relentlessly tugged at the lead and ripped through a 16:23 5K, crossing 30K in 1:37:52 — 2:17:39 pace. It was smooth sailing until Yehualaw crashed in kilo 32.
Despite the leaders’ running much of the race tightly packed and seeming to have collectively stumbled through some of the turns, this was an unforced error as Yehualaw running at the back of the group stubbed a toe on a speed bump.
“I was thinking about a water station when I fell,” she admitted, “but I got up quickly and continued to push. I landed on my hip and knee but I was OK.”
Kebede courteously eased a bit to let Yehualaw rejoin the group, but the high tempo was lost. Kebede began to tire in the 34th kilometer but her efforts managed to drop the formidable pair of Romanian Joan Chelimo (2:18:04 PR) and Ethiopian Ashete Bekere (2:17:58 PR).
Crossing 35K in 1:54:30 (16:38 split and 2:18:02 pace), it was down to a 4-woman race with the Kenyan duo of Jepkosgei and Judith Korir up front trailed by the Ethiopian tandem of Yehualaw and Megertu.
Jepkosgei seemed intent on taking control, ratcheting up the tempo with a couple of 3:15 kilos that dropped Korir, who was competing not so fresh off her silver-medal effort in the July World Championships.
Passing the 37K post in 2:00:59 (2:17:58 pace) Jepkosgei surged hard on a downhill and almost immediately dropped Mergertu, but Yehualaw was more than ready to ramble. Two minutes into the surge, the smooth striding Yehualaw moved past the powerful Kenyan, and forged a 10-meter lead over a 3:05 kilometer as she hit 38K in 2:04:04.
Once the lead was secured, Yehualaw kept pouring it on, reaching 40K in 2:10:21 to close out a 15:51 segment. More impressively, the young Ethiopian — competing in her first marathon major — hammered out a 9:22 for the 3K between 37 and 40 to blow the race open. “At around 35K, I felt that if I pushed, I could become the winner,” she said, “so that’s what I did.”
Yehualaw cruised home to finish off her second marathon with a 2:17:26 win, just 3 seconds shy of her debut time. Not a bad start to a marathon career: undefeated with a pair of 2:17s.
“I’ve started marathon running quite early in my career, so I’m very happy to be successful,” she asserted. “It’s been a dream of mine to win the London Marathon, so I’m really happy.”
LONDON WOMEN’S RESULTS
1. Yalemzerf Yehualaw (Eth) 2:17:26 (x, 11 W) (16:01, 16:17 [32:18], 16:33 [48:51], 16:34 [65:25], 68:46, 16:04 [1:21:29], 16:24 [1:37:53], 16:37 [1:54:30], 15:51 [2:10:21], 7:05) (68:46/68:40);
2. Joyciline Jepkosgei (Ken) 2:18:07 (68:46/69:21); 3. Alemu Megertu (Eth) 2:18:32 (68:46/69:46); 4. Judith Korir (Ken) 2:18:43 (68:46/69:57); 5. Joan Chelimo (Rom) 2:19:27 (68:46/70:41); 6. Ashete Bekere (Eth) 2:19:30; 7. Mary Ngugi (Ken) 2:20:22; 8. Sutume Asefa (Eth) 2:20:44;
9. Ai Hosoda (Jpn) 2:21:42; 10. Rose Harvey (GB) 2:27:59; 11. Marci Klimek (US) 2:37:56; 12. Stephanie Twell (GB) 2:39:16.
(best-ever mark-for place: 6, 8-9)