Ethiopian clocks 2:04:01 to win the men’s title at the London Marathon while Leeds City athlete finishes top Brit

Sisay Lemma enjoyed the race of his life to capture the men’s crown at the Virgin Money London Marathon. The 30-year-old from Ethiopia has had a number of near misses and fast times during his career but it all came together on Sunday as he ran 2:04:01 to win by almost half a minute.

He clearly enjoyed the moment, celebrating down The Mall, but it almost certainly cost him a $25,000 time bonus prize as he missed out on breaking the 2:04 barrier by two seconds.

Lemma also drifted outside of Eliud Kipchoge’s course record of 2:02:37 as the leaders slowed in the second half of the race. The Ethiopian will still have been delighted, though, as he took the first Marathon Majors victory of his life.

Costly celebrations aside, he was unable to take part in the presentations or post-race interviews either due to one of his fellow Ethiopian elite athletes, Kinde Atanaw Alayew, having tested positive on the eve of the race.

Alayew, the 2019 Valencia Marathon champion, was forced to withdraw from the event which  meant Lemma was still allowed to run with fellow athletes he had been spending time with in the previous days in the elite athletes’ hotel near Windsor but he could not mix with ‘new people’ at the presentations or media interviews area.

“Today was the biggest win of my career and a dream come true for me,” said Lemma. “I came third 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.

“I hope that I will have plenty of future opportunities to stand on top of a podium and I look forward to coming back to London next year.”

As the race got underway in chilly but dry conditions, Lemma was part of the leading group, but the big early news was defending champion Shura Kitata being dropped in the opening miles.

The Ethiopian, who beat Kipchoge among others 12 months ago, did not look in top shape due to a hamstring injury and went through 5km about seven seconds down on the leaders which, at this stage, included Vincent Kipchumba, Birhanu Legese, Titus Ekiru, Mosinet Geremew, Evans Chebet and Lemma.

Halfway was reached in 1:01:25 with the same six leaders, while Kitata was 1:34 adrift in seventh.

The Brits were going well, meanwhile, with Mo Aadan, Jonny Mellor, Phil Sesemann and Weynay Ghebreselassie passing halfway in 1:05:11. Josh Griffiths was a further half-minute behind.

Ekiru dropped out at 17 miles to leave five men – Kipchumba, Legese, Geremew, Chebet and Lemma – battling it out.

This pack continued to whistle along for several more miles and Lemma’s decisive move came at 24 miles as he looked to improve on his third place from last year’s London Marathon.

As the leader drove away, Kipchumba battled into the same runner-up spot in which he had finished last year. The Kenyan eventually came home 27 seconds behind Lemma in 2:04:28, while Geremew, the world silver medallist from Ethiopia, was third in 2:04:41.

Behind the east Africans who were battling for podium places, an intriguing scrap was unfolding in the race to finish as first Brit home. Into the closing stages Sesemann emerged as the strongest contender as he ran with pacemaker and occasional training partner Jake Smith.

Once Smith dropped out, Sesemann struggled into the wind on the Embankment and came home in seventh place overall in 2:12:58 – inside the qualifying standard for next year’s Commonwealth Games and European Championships. He was delighted with his debut marathon performance.

Phil Sesemann (Mark Shearman)

Growing up as a member of Blackheath and Bromley Harriers, Sesemann now works as a part-time junior doctor in Leeds and runs for Leeds City. He has clearly found his niche in the marathon and it will be interesting to see what he can do in subsequent efforts.

READ MORE: Phil Sesemann interview 

Finishing strongly behind, Griffiths was not far outside his PB with 2:13:39 in eighth place. Then followed Matt Leach in 2:15:31 and masters runner Andrew Davies with 2:15:36.

Mellor, who had finished top Brit in London last year, battled on to clock 2:16:09, while Ghebreselassie – an Eritrean refugee who settled in England and later Scotland after the London Olympics – also struggled in the latter stages but finished in 2:16:27.

Charlie Hulson was next in 2:17:02, then Josh Lunn in 2:18:06 and Aadan in 2:18:19.

At this stage thousands more runners had yet to finish. After several hours of brilliant weather many of them got drenched, though, with a heavy mid-afternoon rain shower.

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