Kenya: History of London Marathon – Featuring Kipchoge, Keitany and Radcliffe




Kenyans hold a special place in the rich history of the London Marathon which is perhaps the most popular among the six races in the World Marathon Majors.

The London Marathon that is a long-distance running event covering 42km and held in London, United Kingdom, is part of the World Marathon Majors.

The event was first run on March 29, 1981 and has been held in spring of every year for the last 38 years.

The race was founded by the 1956 Melbourne Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion and journalist Chris Brasher and athlete John Disley.

Shortly after completing the New York City Marathon in November 1979, Brasher was inspired by the people of New York coming together for the occasion, he asked “whether London could stage such a festival?”

The following year, Brasher and Disley made trips to America to study the organisation and finance of big city marathons such as New York and Boston.

Brasher signed a contract with Gillette for £50,000, established charitable status and outlined six main aims in the hope to mirror the scenes he witnessed in New York and establish the United Kingdom on the map as a country capable of arranging major events.

The London Marathon was born.

London Marathon is now organised by Hugh Brasher (son of Chris) as Race Director and Nick Bitel as Chief Executive.


Set over a largely flat course around the River Thames, the race begins at three separate points around Blackheath and finishes in The Mall alongside St James’s Park.

Since the first marathon, the course has undergone very few route changes. In 1982, the finishing post was moved from Constitution Hill to Westminster Bridge due to construction works. It remained there for 12 years before moving to its present location at The Mall.

Apart from being one of the six races in the World Marathon Majors, the London Marathon is also a large, celebratory sporting festival, third in England only to the Great North Run in Newcastle upon Tyne and Great Manchester Run in Manchester in terms of the number of participants.

From the day legendary Kenyan Douglas Wakiihuri became the first African man to win the prestigious marathon in 1989, Kenya and Ethiopia dominance began in 2003.

The women’s race has also been nostalgic for Kenyans with the history-making Joyce Chepchumba, who halted the European supremacy for 16 years with victory in 1997, hence becoming the first African to achieve the feat.

But it’s from 2010 that the women race has been an East Africa affair with Chepchumba orchestrating Kenyans victories in seven editions, with Ethiopians winning in two.

The first London Marathon was held on March 29, 1981 with more than 20,000 applying to run. However, 6,747 were accepted and 6,255 crossed the finish line.

However, what is interesting is that the men’s race had joint winners; United States of America’s Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen from Norway, who crossed the finishing line holding hands in a course record time of 2:11:48.

The first women’s race was won by Briton Joyce Smith in 2:29:57.


Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who is also the Olympic Marathon champion, holds the London Marathon course record set in 2016 in a time of 2:03:05, missing the World Record then held by Dennis Kimetto by eight seconds.

The time in 2016 made Kipchoge the first person to run the race under 2 hours 04 minutes, though the 2003 World 5,000m champion would eventually down the record last year during the Berlin Marathon in 2:01:39.

London Marathon course has only produced one World Record through Moroccan-born Khalid Khannouchi of USA, who won the 2002 edition in 2:05:38.

Interestingly, Khannouchi had bettered his own World Record time of 2:05:42 set in 1999 Chicago Marathon, while still competing for Morocco.

The London course has produced seven women World Records including Paula Radcliffe’s mixed race of 2:15:25 set with victory in 2003 and Kenya’s Mary Keitany’s women only of 2:17:01 attained in 2017.

Course records for the London Marathon have been set 10 times in the men’s race, while seven times in the women’s race.

Steve Jones from Britain was the first man to run under 2 hours and 09 minutes when winning the 1985 Marathon in 2:08:16.

Portuguese António Pinto, who had won in 1992, was the first man to run under 2 hours 08 minutes when he completed a double with victory in 1997 in 2:07:55.

Pinto also was the first man to run under 2 hours 07 minutes after he completed a hat-trick in 2000 in 2:06:36.

That also saw Pinto becoming the second man to win in London three times after Mexican Dionicio Cerón, who triumphed back-to-back in 1994-1996. In fact, he is the only man to have defended his London Marathon twice in a row.

Khannouchi’s victory in 2002 in 2:05:38 made him the first man to run under 2 hours and 06 minutes, as Kenya’s Martin Lel also become the first man to complete the race under 2:06 hours with victory in 2008 in 2:05:15.

The win saw Lel join Pinto and Ceron in the league of men who had won in London thrice.

Emmanuel Mutai from Kenya would run the first sub 2:05 race at London with victory in 2011 of 2:04:40 as Eliud Kipchoge would join the class of hat-tricks with the first sub 2:04 on the course with successful title defence in 2016 in 2:03:05.


Kipchoge would lose the title to Daniel Wanjiru in 2017, before recapturing it in 2018 in 2:04:17.

From Wakiihuri’s historic victory in 1989 in 2:09:03, it took 10 years for another African Abdelkader El Mouaziz of Morocco to win in 2001.

The East African athletes have stamped authority to win the race since 2003. The Kenyans have had the lion’s share winning in 13 editions, while Ethiopians have triumphed three times, through Gezahegne Abera (2003) and Tsegaye Kebede (2010, 2013).

Other Kenyans to have won apart from Lel, Kipchoge, Mutai and Daniel Wanjiru are Wilson Kipsang (2012, 2014), Evans Ruto (2004), Felix Limo (2006) and Samuel Wanjiru (2009).

Eamonn Martin is the last Briton to win the men’s race in 1993.

Radcliffe and Keitany are the only athletes to run sub 2:18 hours on London Marathon course, while Radcliffe is the only athlete to have produced a sub 2:16 with the WR in 2:15:25.

Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen holds the most women victories with a record four times; 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988 with her victory of 2:21:06 in 1985 being a world record.

Radcliffe, Keitany and Katrin Dörre-Heinig from Germany have won in London three times each, while inaugural winner Briton Joyce Smith (1981, 1982) Kenyan Joyce Chepchumba (1997, 1999) and Russian Irina Mikitenko (2008, 2009)have won the event twice each.

After Chepcumba, the second Kenyan woman to win in London is legendary Tegla Loroupe, who is a former World Record holder in 2000, as Margaret Okayo followed suit in 2004.

It’s until 2011 when another Kenyan won in London, Mary Keitany, who would defend the title in 2012 compatriots Priscah Jeptoo and Edna Kiplagat reigned in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa interrupted Kenyans dominance in 2015 before Jemima Sumgong triumphed in 2016 as Keitany reclaimed the title in 2017.

The 2016 Rio 5,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot upheld Kenya’s reign with victory in 2018.


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