First she flew like superwoman. Then she ran like one. And, on the streets of London, a new star was born as the 23-year-old athlete Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest woman to win the London Marathon.
What made Yehualaw’s victory more stunning was that she endured a spectacular faceplant on a sleeping policeman speed bump with six miles to go. It sent the Ethiopian sprawling, caused considerable soreness to her hip, hand and knee, and left her at least 25 metres behind the leading pack.
Yehualaw, however, picked herself up, rushed back into contention, and then destroyed her rivals with a devastating burst to win in 2hr 17min 26sec.
It was the third fastest time in the history of the women’s race, behind only Paula Radcliffe and Mary Keitany.
“I was heading to a water station so I did not see the bump coming,” Yehualaw said afterwards. “It was very painful. I have lost some feeling in my hip, knee and my hand. They are still sore now.”
A leading group of six was whittled down gradually so that with two miles remaining the race was a shootout between Yehualaw and last year’s winner Joyciline Jepkosgei. But it was then that the Ethiopian hit the afterburners. She ran that 24th mile in an extraordinary 4min 43sec to power to victory by 41sec.
Yehualaw, who runs for the same NN group as the men’s world champion Eliud Kipchoge, now plans a return to London in April to defend her title. But she admits she will have bigger goals on her mind then, too.
“It is my first time in London so I am so happy to win,” said Yehualaw, who runs 180km to 195km a week in training. “People were shouting a lot and it inspired me. But the longer plan I have is that I would like to next time break the world record.”
The best British finisher, Rose Harvey, said she was delighted to do so well having started training seriously in lockdown. “I got made redundant,” the 30-year-old athlete said, after finishing 10th in 2:27:59.
“I work in corporate finance law. I had three months’ gardening leave and I started training for a half ironman. My coach spotted me at the track and asked if I needed some coaching. I got a new job but kept going.”
Meanwhile the men’s race was won by Amos Kipruto, who has often been the bridesmaid but never the bride in major races.
The 30-year-old Kenyan had won the bronze medal at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, and was second at the 2022 Tokyo Marathon behind Kipchoge, but he looked strong throughout.
The decisive strike came as the leading group entered the Blackfriars tunnel. At that point four athletes were still contention, but Kipruto put in a 4:21 on mile 25 to bound clear to victory in 2:04:39. “I was thinking this is the day,” Kipruto said afterwards. “And I made it. This is the biggest win of my career.”
The Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase was second in 2:05.12, followed by the Belgian athlete Bashir Abdi seven seconds back in third. Meanwhile the 40-year-old Kenenisa Bekele, the second fastest marathoner of all time and one of the greatest distance runners in history, dug in deep to finish fifth in 2:05:53.
The first Briton home was the 28-year-old Weynay Ghebresilasie, who was born in Eritrea but qualified last year to represent Great Britain. He finished ninth in a personal best time of 2:11:57, followed closely by compatriot Philip Sesemann.
In the men’s wheelchair race, the 43-year-old David Weir was delighted to finish in third in his 23rd consecutive London Marathon.
“There’s still a lot of pressure on me to do well because people expect me to podium every time I race, but they forget how old I am,” Weir said. “But the London marathon is special to me because it’s one of the first races I did in a race chair.”