The 2004 Flora London marathon lived up to its reputation as the world's greatest road race on a cool and wet April morning. The world's greatest runners achieved top-class performances ahead of strong top domestic achievements, club runners, fun runners, celebrities and charity and costumed runners.
First-ever London Kenyan Double
Perhaps surprisingly in view of Kenyan worldwide marathon domination, the race marked the first ever Kenyan double in the race: Evans Rutto and Margaret Okayo both scored fast impressive wins.
Despite the blustery conditions and cold driving rain, Rutto cruised to victory in the fastest time in the world this year - 2:06:18. And it didn't come pain-free as he had a fall on the slippery and wet cobbles just before the Tower of London after catching a barrier. "If the weather had been better and I had not fallen: well, it's possible I could have broken the world record." he claimed.
Rutto went into the event as the race favourite. That was based on winning Chicago in a world debut record of 2:05:50 despite rivals who included world champion Jaouad Gharib, the Olympic champion, Gezahegne Abera, and Kenya's Sammy Korir, who became the second-fastest marathon runner ever when he paced Paul Tergat to a world record of 2:04:55 in Berlin last year and finished just a second behind.
Sadly, Abera pulled up before London's six-mile mark with an achilles injury, but there were still 18 runners in the lead pack at halfway. Rutto picked up the pace in the 17th mile and a few miles later he had just Korir for company. The two of them slipped over at the same point; their mile over the cobbles was the slowest of the race, at 5:09.
The fall seemed to affect Rutto the least, and he made a strong move along the Embankment to break comfortably clear to win by exactly 30 seconds. However despite his perfect marathon record, he's not in the Kenyan Olympic team: Korir, who was second in 2:06:48, has been selected! Gharib, who also slipped on the cobbles, was third in 2:07:02.
The British Men
The first British runner was former Olympic fourth placer Jon Brown, who eased round well inside the 2004 Olympic qualifying standard of 2:15:00 with 2:13:39. He will be joined in Athens by Tipton's Dan Robinson who smashed his PB of 2:16:51 with 2:13:53. However, spare a thought for Chris Cariss, who ran an agonising 2:15:08 to just miss out on selection.
The Women's Race
Women's winner Margaret Okayo run the first few miles with her T-shirt on but then threw it off during a 4:59 third mile which left the rest of the field - including British pacemaker Liz Yelling - well behind. Okayo opened up a good lead but by 10 miles she was caught by the Romanian Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who has a reputation for leading races but fading in the latter stages. Okayo, who said the cold, wet conditions hampered her mid-race, made a recovery and showing the form that saw her set course records at both Boston and New York, she eased past the Romanian at 20 miles and went on to an easy win, again the fastest time in the world this year - 2:22:35.
Over 800 metres behind, Russian Lyudmila Petrova finished fast to snatch second in 2:26:02, with Tomescu-Dita fading to third in 2:26:52. Back in fifth, former winner Joyce Chepchumba (2:28:01) recorded her 18th successive sub-2:30 marathon. In seventh was Sun Yingyie - technically the best athlete in the women's field, with a PB of 2:19:39. Again, she felt the cold and wet conditions didn't help.
Excellent British Women's Performances
However despite the conditions there were some sparkling British women's performances. Last year you could have got huge odds on a 36-year-old with a 3:39 PB making Athens. However, Tracey Morris has been virtually unbeatable in British races in recent months and she overhauled her British rivals in the last few miles with a brilliant 2:33:52. That means she will almost certainly be joining Paula Radcliffe and Yelling in Athens. Not far behind, Ethiopian-born Belgrave Harrier Birhan Dagne (2:34:45), Jo Lodge (2:34:49) and Michelle Lee (2:35:51) were also well inside the Athens standard. Runner's World forumites will probably know Michelle better as 'Smashy' and she took almost 8 minutes off her PB.
The Mass Field
Of course the race is more than just about the world's elite and runners chasing Olympic spots however runners throughout the field were helped to personal bests and key target times by some solid leadership from the Runner's World pacers. The seven-minute mile pacer Rob Watts came in virtually right on three hours and there were success stories throughout the field despite the less than helpful conditions which were probably worse the longer you were out there.
As ever, there were masses of costumed runners and celebrities, with Nell McAndrew particularly impressive in 3:20. Others spotted finishing on the thorough BBC coverage was Jeffrey Archer (attempting to raise a world record amount for charity), Eastenders' Charlie Brooks and Chris Parker, Sport's Adrian Moorhouse, Graham Taylor; and Graham Gooch and Chef Gordon Ramsey.
Overall, despite the conditions, the race was its usual slick self; the crowds and the atmosphere were brilliant; and we guess it's going to be hard to beat for the Runner's World race of 2004!