LONDON, April 23- Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya set a new course record in winning the London Marathon for the second straight year on Sunday.
The former track star clocked an unofficial time of 2:03:05, just eight seconds shy of the world record set by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon in September 2014.
Kipchoge broke clear of another Kenyan, Stanley Biwott, with about three kilometres to go and sprinted home well ahead of Biwott with track legend Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in third.
He celebrated by raising his finger as he made the final turn but appeared to realise just before the line that he could have broken Kimetto’s world best time.
Kipchoge is the first man to win back-to-back London marathons since Martin Lel of Kenya in 2008.
“With six kilometres to go it was a tie between going for the world record time and winning. I am happy I have ran the course very well,” he told the BBC.
“I am really happy with the programme I’ve been undergoing and I’m happy with the course record today.
“The crowd is what pushed me. It is a wonderful crowd in every kilometre, except in the tunnel, they cheer you and it keeps you moving.”
For Biwott it was the second time he has finished runner-up in London after 2014. He was fourth behind winner Kipchoge last year. His time of 2:03:51 was a personal best
Former Olympic and world track champion over 5,000 and 10,000m Bekele showed a return to form after a niggling series of injuries.
Not for the first time in London, the pace in the opening stages of the men’s race was blisteringly fast with a large pack escorted by pacemakers covering the early miles at close to two hour-pace for the distance.
The projected finish-time began to slow very gradually in the second quarter but the halfway split of 61:24, with six athletes in contact at the front, was the fastest in marathon history by three seconds.
By this point, Kimetto had dropped six seconds off the leading group and his recent indifferent string of results continued, as he ultimately finished ninth in 2:11:44.
His training partner Wilson Kipsang – a past two-time winner and the course record-holder in London – began to toil after passing through 25km in 1:12:39 with the reigning champion Eliud Kipchoge, 2015 New York Marathon winner Stanley Biwott and multiple track world record holder Kenenisa Bekele the only runners left in contention.
Kipsang’s course record looked destined to fall and Kimetto’s course record was still in view through 30km, which was passed in a world record (subject to ratification) of 1:27:13.
Bekele was in the process of staging a brilliant return to form after a litany of injuries over the last 18 months but even the world 5000m and 10,000m record-holder started to lose ground as the two Kenyans continued to press ahead at a frantic pace.
However, Biwott remained in contention, looking for his second big city win in succession, and the head-to-head aspect of the race began to take precedence over maintaining the world record pace.
The 21st, 22nd and 23rd miles were among the slowest of the race – covered in 4:51, 4:47 and 4:50 respectively – but Kipchoge put in a faster 4:38 mile to break away from Biwott just before the 40km checkpoint was reached in 1:56:49.
Kipchoge, a 5000m world champion back in 2003, drew upon some of his famed speed from the track as he covered the closing 2.2km in one of the fastest times in history at the end of the marathon, 6:16, to finish just eight seconds adrift of Kimetto’s illustrious mark but still a course record and also a personal best by 55 seconds.
Biwott moved up to sixth on the world all-time lists in second place with 2:03:51 and, despite losing ground on the leaders in the last quarter of the race, Bekele finished third in 2:06:36 off less than two months of structured training.
Eritrea’s 2015 world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie claimed fourth in 2:07:46, a personal best by one second, just ahead of Kipsang in fifth in 2:07:52.
Callum Hawkins ran an even-paced race to finish as the top Briton in eighth place in 2:10:52 to make the British team for Rio.
Additional report from IAAF