London Marathon Men — Mutiso Thwarts Bekele

Alexander (Munyao) Mutiso’s win was his second — and by far most significant — marathon triumph. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/AGENCE SHOT)

LONDON, ENGLAND, April 21 — At a time when Kenya is looking to fill the void left by Kelvin Kiptum’s tragic passing, 27-year-old Alexander Mutiso looks more than ready after prevailing over a resurgent Kenenisa Bekele and a stellar field to win the TCS London Marathon in 2:04:01.

“I’m happy for winning today’s major marathon, which is my first major marathon,” Mutiso declared. “I loved the course, it was all very good.”

Oh, so close to being great for Bekele who hit the front at 28K and broke the race open, dropping everyone, save Mutiso. “Very close,” an exasperated Bekele lamented. “It was great, but I would’ve been so happy if I had won the race.”

After running away from a field full of athletes with Olympic aspirations, certainly Mutiso, and most likely Bekele, will advance to Paris.

While a bit short on Kenyan talent, London served as the de facto Ethiopian Trials with 7 top-shelf athletes taking part led by Bekele (2:01:41 PR), and including Tamirat Tola (2:03:39), Dawit Wolde (2:03:48), Kinde Atanaw (2:03:51), Leul Gebrselassie (2:04:02), Seifu Tura (2:04:29) and Milkesa Mengesha (2:05:29).

A trio of pacers insured that the race got off to a brisk start, ushering a pack of a dozen racers through the downhill opening 10K in 29:04 — 2:02:39 pace. Tola, coming off his course record in NYC, ran amid the pacers ensuring a fast clip. Mutiso never strayed far from the front, while Bekele brought up the rear.

The pace slipped a bit heading into a freshening northwest wind with the second 10K covered in 29:17, splitting 58:21 at 20K and 61:29 at halfway. Riding a tailwind, Tola led the pacer through a 14:25 split for the next 5K segment, and the 9-man lead pack remained intact crossing 25K in 1:12:46 (2:02:49 pace).

Turning back into the wind at 27K the race began to unravel and Gebrselassie was the first to fall from the lead group. A kilometer later the last pacer gave out and Bekele stepped to the fore and powered through the wind. Tola and Mengesha scrambled to stay with the legendary veteran; Mutiso ran with Wolde and Atanaw 15m back, while Tura and Kenyan Daniel Mateiko could not keep the pace.

The lead trio passed 30K in 1:27:20 (2:02:50 pace) with Mutiso 3 seconds back, though not for long as he and Wolde closed the gap with a 2:51 split for the 31st K. Bekele kept rolling, displaying the powerful, free-flowing stride that has stamped his many triumphs.

The constant pace pressure into the wind and the sight of Bekele in full flight rattled his Ethiopian rivals. After running accelerator-down from the get-go, Tola lost power and in an instant was dropped along with Wolde. Mengesha was the last to let go, falling 3 seconds back as Bekele and Mutiso crossed the 35K mat in 1:42:07 (2:03:07 pace).

Bekele’s into-the-wind 5K segment in 14:44 blew up what had been a rather tidy race. Such was the force of his move that the road would soon empty. Tola, Wolde, Mengesha, Gebrselassie and Mateiko all soon stepped off the course.

Most surprised was Mutiso. “I did not expect that after 35km the other guys were scattered and I was left with Kenenisa Bekele,” he said. “So, I said ‘Let me be confident,’ I got some pressure from Bekele but I had a lot of confidence because I trained for this race.”

The Japan-based athlete covers ground in a sturdy, compact stride that doesn’t break and has made quick work of his 4-race marathon career. After lowering his best to 2:03:11 at Valencia in December, Mutiso received his first invitation to a WMM race.

He made the best of it, matching strides with Bekele as the improbable duo raced down The Embankment — a London rookie racing a 41-year-old legend who has now produced two quality races within 5 months.

Bekele’s hopes for an elusive London win gave out with his back. He said, “After 35 I felt my lower back collapse a little bit and I couldn’t achieve what I had expected. Because I was a little bit injured, and not really 100% injury-free.”

As the tempo from 35 to 40K lagged to 15:02, Mutiso sensed his good fortune.

“Approaching 40K is where I thought I could win,” he said. “My focus was good and I felt good. Then at 40 kilometers I saw I left Kenenisa behind by some meters and I got a lot of confidence to win.”

After stopping the clock at 2:04:01 Mutiso professed, “This is the biggest marathon of my career and it means a lot. I’m very confident that I see many good things are coming in front of me.”

Bekele crossed in 2:04:15 a bit disappointed and showing no love for the consolation of improving his Masters Record. “Believe me, this is not my best time,” he said. “I was a bit injured. I expect faster than this time. I think I have two to three more years of marathons and if I am 100% healthy, I will show the world my best time.”

With much of the lead pack all but evaporating on the road, the finish line took on an uncharacteristic European flair with Brits Emile Cairess (3rd in 2:06:46) and Mahamed Mahamed 3rd and 4th ahead of Hassan Chahdi of France. All bettered the Olympic standard.

Brian Shrader was the top U.S. finisher, 10th in 2:10:50.


1. Alexander Mutiso (Ken) 2:04:01 (1:01:29/1:02:32) ($55,000); 2. Kenenisa Bekele (Eth) 2:04:15; 3. Emile Cairess (GB) 2:06:46 PR; 4. Mahamed Mahamed (GB) 2:07:05 PR; 5. Hassan Chahdi (Fra) 2:07:30 PR; 6. Henok Tesfay (Eri) 2:09:22; 7. Hendrik Pfeiffer (Ger) 2:10:00; 8. Kinde Atanaw (Eth) 2:10:03; 9. Johannes Motschmann (Ger) 2:10:39 PR; 10. Brian Shrader (US) 2:10:50; 11. Marc Scott (GB) 2:11:19 PR; 12. Alexander Lepretre (GB) 2:15:34.