London Marathon Men — Lemma’s First Big Win

Bouncing back nicely from an Olympic dnf, Sisay Lemma scored a convincing 27-second win. (MARK SHEARMAN)

LONDON, ENGLAND, October 03 — The London Marathon returned to its classic course around the bends in the River Thames for the first time since the Pandemic hit, giving Ethiopian Sisay Lemma the ideal showcase for his first-ever major-marathon win in 2:04:01.

Skies were overcast for most of the race as a gap opened up in the weekend rain to allow the runners near-perfect conditions, with the temperature 52 (11C) at the start and 62 (16C) at the finish. The elite grouping was small, just 10 runners—3 of them pacers—in the pack during the first couple of miles with defending champion Shura Kitata, troubled by a hamstring, unable to hold on even then.

The pacers dialed the running in at a 2:02–2:03 pace, passing 5K in 14:33 and hitting the second section in 14:40 (29:13). Running just behind was the tall figure of Kenyan Vincent Torotich (also known as Kipchumba), last year’s runner-up. Also in the mix were Kenyans Titus Ekiru, the yearly world leader at 2:02:57; and Evans Chebet, No. 7 all-time at 2:03:00. The Ethiopian frontline squad included Berhanu Legesse, history’s No. 3 at 2:02:48; Mosinet Geremew, No. 4 at 2:02:55; and Lemma, a 2:03:36 performer who had DNFed at the Olympics.

The daunting pace carried on, with a third 5K of 14:39 (43:52), then a speed up to 14:17, the fastest of the race, as the leaders crossed the Tower Bridge and made their way onto the north bank of the Thames. Behind all three pacers still, the leaders hit 20K in 58:09 and halfway in 61:25.

By 25K (1:12:39) only one pacer remained along with the 6 contenders who had hit 14:30 for that segment, all of them regularly checking their watches and gauging when and if to make a break. Still, no one went over the next segment, where they lost their last pacer, as well as Ekiru. They covered it in 14:40 (1:27:19 @ 30K).

The waiting game continued as the course turned west and the group had to deal with a gusting headwind. As the going got tougher, the pack covered the next segment in 14:59 (1:42:18 @ 35K, still a 2:03:20 clip). Chebet took over the lead from Torotich but didn’t last long in that position.

Finally, Lemma, who was 3rd in last year’s sprint finish, made the most decisive move of the race. He soon built up a solid 9-second lead gap ahead of Torotich and Geremew, covering the next 5K in 15:09, as Legesse and Chebet had fallen far back. The sun came out for his finish, as he added nearly 20 more seconds to his margin in the final 2K. Waving to the crowd as the finish came into view — perhaps a costly mistake — the 30-year-old veteran of 22 marathons continued to the finish in 2:04:01, narrowly missing a $25K bonus for breaking 2:04:00.

Torotich took 2nd in a PR 2:04:28 and Geremew came next in 2:04:41. Chebet caught Legesse for the next spot, 2:05:43 to 2:06:10. Kitata, who had run alone for virtually the entire race, finished 6th in 2:07:51, 5:00 ahead of the next finisher.

The winner, who had tested COVID-negative just before the race, was rushed away afterward because of his close encounter with a teammate who had tested positive two days earlier. His agent, Gianni Demadonna, accepted the trophy and flowers for him.

Later, Lemma said, “Today was the biggest win of my career and a dream come true for me. I came 3rd last year here in London and to return 12 months later and to win this great race is an incredible and proud moment. Of course, I would have loved to have celebrated my win by standing on top of the podium, but I completely understand why this was not possible. We are living in challenging times and I am just grateful that it was possible for me to run today and experience the greatest moment of my career.”

Said runner-up Torotich, “Everything went to plan today, this course is very good. I am very happy with my time, very happy. To achieve my personal best is something I was aiming for today.”

Third-placer Geremew was not so thrilled: “Today was not bad and not good. The route was not what I expected and I’m not happy with my time.”


1. Sisay Lemma (Eth) 2:04:01

2. Vincent Torotich (Ken) 2:04:28

3. Mosinet Geremew (Eth) 2:04:41

4. Evans Chebet (Ken) 2:05:43

5. Birhanu Legese (Eth) 2:06:10

6. Shura Kitata (Eth) 2:07:51

7. Philip Sesemann (GB) 2:12:58

8. Josh Griffiths (GB) 2:13:39

9. Matt Leach (GB) 2:15:31

10. Andrew Davies (GB) 2:15:36