Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw breaks a six-year Kenyan winning streak to become youngest-ever London Marathon victor
Ethiopian sensation Yalemzerf Yehualaw stormed to victory in the TCS London Marathon today (Sunday 2 October), fulfilling a childhood dream as she became the youngest-ever elite women’s winner with a commanding performance that left Kenya’s defending champion Joyciline Jepkosgei trailing her wake.
At 23, Yehualaw confirmed her status as the rising star of women’s marathon running as she added the coveted London crown to the Hamburg title she took this April.
That was run in the fastest-ever marathon debut time, and she was just three seconds slower today – despite a bruising mid-race fall – stopping the clock above the famous finish gantry on The Mall at 2:17:26. It is the third-quickest time ever on the London course and only 25 seconds outside the women’s only world record.
She also broke a Kenyan stranglehold on this race, becoming the first Ethiopian women’s winner since Tigist Tufa in 2015 and only the fourth in London Marathon history.
“I knew it was fast paced,” she said after catching her breath. “I was aware that we were on for a world record time at one point, but I just focused on running as fast as I could.
“We are tough athletes in Ethiopia, and we work really hard so we can race as well as possible.”
Yehualaw started running seven years ago in high school. Yet with two races, two wins and two super-quick times, she is already building a formidable marathon record.
“I didn’t feel any pressure today,” she said. “I had full confidence in myself.”
She certainly produced a performance of measured maturity, defying her age with an impressive victory against a field of far more experienced rivals.
Chief among those was Jepkosgei, the 2019 New York City champion, who did her best to retain the London crown, sticking to her younger challenger until the final five kilometres. She finished 41 seconds behind, just outside the personal best she set 12 months ago.
“I hope to be here next year because I love London,” said the defeated champion. “The streets of London are the best, the crowds cheer us all the way and keep us motivated.”
Alemu Megertu ensured Ethiopia had two on the podiumm as she took third in a personal best of 2:18:32, ahead of Kenya’s world silver medallist Judith Korir and Romania’s Joan Melly.
“I’m very happy to come third,” she said. “And I am very pleased to have run my best time. Ethiopian running is a big thing.”
Indeed, it is. And it’s only getting bigger with the emergence of Yehualaw, who talked two days ago of how she dreamed of winning London as a young athlete.
She lived out that dream in style this morning, overcoming a hugely talented line-up including eight women who’ve run under 2:20 and numerous major city marathon winners.
She set off looking determined, taking prime place behind the pacemakers. They’d been asked to go at world record pace and they hit their stride perfectly, clipping off the miles through Greenwich and Bermondsey bang on course for a sub-2:17 finish.
Jepkosgei set off at the back of the nine-strong pack, while Yehualaw was in Eliud Kipchoge mode, running a stride behind the pacemakers with her eyes fixed on their heels.
They went through halfway in 68:46, where the last pacer dropped away leaving Yehualaw to lead seven women through Wapping and around the Isle of Dogs, fellow Ethiopians Ashete Bekere and Sutume Kebede on her shoulders.
At 30K, Yehualaw took a moment to preserve some energy, but as she dropped to the rear of the pack she tripped on a bump in the road, hitting her left hip and knee before recovering to rejoin the group.
For the next 5K she bided her time at the back as Jepkosgei upped the pace alongside Korir, reducing the field to five, then four, as only Yehualaw and Megertu could stick with the Kenyans.
Yehualaw picked her moment, moving back to the front after 35K and kicking in a 4:43 mile as she shrugged off Korir and Megertu.
Briefly, Jepkosgei clung to her tail. But soon she was beaten too as Yehualaw strode clear past the Tower of London and on to Victoria Embankment towards the finish. She crossed the line in victorious isolation, taking her first Abbott World Marathon Majors crown.
“This is my first time in London and I hurt my hip and knee, so I’m happy to win,” she said. “My dream was to win big races and run at the Olympics. Now I think I can be the best in the world.”
Rose Harvey was the first Briton home in 10th place, clocking 2:27:59, after domestic favourite Charlotte Purdue withdrew overnight with illness. Steph Twell came in 12th.