For years, on the Friday before the VM London marathon, the colorful David Bedford, showcasing his wicked sense of humor, would say, with no humility, at the opening cocktail party, “Welcome to the finest marathon in the world.” Now, Hugh Brasher, the VM London race director, smiles and notes the same, in non-pandemic years.
Here are my five deep thoughts on the wonderful 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, held on 3 October 2021!
1. The London Marathon is definitely back. The traditional course, the 35-40 different waves of 1000, and the historic districts of London welcome each and every runner to the media capital of the world. London has been, for years, the highest class marathon in the world. The challenges of the past two years, with the London marathon moved to the fall (2020, 2021 and yes, 2022) took more than a marathon away from the fans (500,000 to a million, and not a fake million), and the city. London showed, in 2021, that the World Marathon Majors was back, one wek after Berlin! 40,000 runners competed in London, plus another 25-30,000 virtual runners.
2. Sisay Lemma’s $25,000 celebration. In the world of elite marathons, the money is paid with appearance fees, financial awards for top 10-20, and also time bonuses. For example, a bonus could be given for women under 2:20, 2:22, and men, under 2:04, 2:05, 2:06, etc. Sisay Lemma, we have been told, was enjoying the thrill of victory (his first) in a World Marathon Majors. In his overly enthusiastic finish, where he slowed down to wave to the masses of London fants, Sisay just missed being under 2 hours, 4 minutes, with his 2:04.01. No big woop, but probably, if past years serve me right, Mr. Lemma waved, slowed down and lost somewhere between $25,000-$50,000, depending on what his management negotiated with the London marathon elite coordinators. Three men under 2:05! Sisay Lemma, 2:04.01, ETH, Vincent Kipchumba, KEN, 2:04.28, Mosinet Geremew, ETH, 2:04.41.
3. The women had a real footrace In London. Brigid Kosgei, the WR in the marathon, had taken the Olympic silver just eight weeks before, in hot and humid Sapporo, Japan, to Peres Jepchirchir. In London, the formidable women’s field showed that if you are not on your top game, then, well, “kind regards”, as they say on Schitt’s Creek (a Netflix show worthy of binging on). For the first time in history, five women went under 2:19! Joyciline Jepkosgei, KEN won in 2:17.43, Degitu Azimeraw (ETH) was second in 2:17.58, Ashete Bekere, ETH, 2:18.18 was third, WR holder Brigid Kosgei, KEN, not recovered yet from Sapporo, Japan and the Summer Olympics, was 4th in 2:18.40, with Lonah Salpeter of Israel, in fifth in 2:18.54! Nice job to Spencer Barden, the VM London elite coordinator!
4. The top Brit male had a great story! As European senior writer, Stuart Weir told us, Philip Sesemann had run indoors last winter, most 3000m races. He built his mileage slowly, and in August, ran two half marathons, all this an being a new doctor! His 2:12.58 was a debut marathon and it took all of his effort! What a wonderful performance!
5. And Charlotte Purdue, as top Brit woman, showed the Selectors that they made Big mistake in Tokyo! As we watched Charlotte Purdue, who I had met and interviewed at Mainvoa Frankfurt a few years ago. Charlotte’s 2:23.26 was not only brilliant, as she speeded up over the last few miles, gave her the number 3 British performance EVER. And it could not have happened to a nicer person. Charlotte was not selected for the Tokyo team to the consternation of the athlete, her team and many of the fans in GB!