Hottest ticket at Olympics is a giveaway

Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 01:00

LONDON MARATHON:This is what we were running for: that famous last stretch along Victoria Embankment – Big Ben, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament . . .

ANYONE STILL betting, bribing, begging can relax right now. Forget ebay and what Aunt Sally out in Ruislip is promising. The hottest ticket at the London Olympics is a giveaway, the one condition being you get there early.

Because if this acted as a sort of final trial for events this summer – and for the Kenyans it certainly did – it could be the marathon of the ages, surpassing even what London produced in 1908.

The city has always paraded itself in everything monumental and grandiose, and that clearly includes its magnificent marathon climax.

Whoever decided to finish the 2012 Olympic marathon here and not down in the grimy environs of the Olympic Stadium should be given a gold medal.

I know that because I’ve just run the same closing miles of the Olympic marathon route, along with about 37,500 others – and never experienced anything like it, as if running along loose electricity.

From the moment we set off from Blackheath earlier in the morning this is what we were running for: that famous last stretch along Victoria Embankment – Big Ben, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament our backdrop – that last delicious smell of the river, then boom! Swing around in front of Buckingham Palace for the final 385 yards up The Mall.

I could have knelt down and kissed that pale purple tarmac, and definitely can’t remember ever feeling so proud and relieved to run on to a street lined with Union Jacks.

On the first (for women) and second (for men) Sundays next August the spectacle will be repeated, the difference being the Olympic marathon will actually do it four times, in roughly 10km circuits. Whoever had that idea should get a gold medal too.

That’s not saying the first 20 miles we traversed to get to that stage will be quickly forgotten, and in passing glances reminded me just how nice the nice parts of London really are. Although as Noel Carroll said, the marathon begins at 20 miles – and that certainly proved true here, in more ways than one.

We’d been promised a cool breeze and perhaps some showers, yet if felt more like high summer, my first blood-red piss afterwards a frightening sign that I hadn’t drunk nearly enough in the opening miles.

My bigger worry was actually the lack of training, hideously interrupted in recent weeks with the dreaded groin strain.

With that in mind I decided to employ the Rambo tactic: unloading all your ammunition in the opening miles, seeing how far that gets you, then try fighting your way out of it.

London is beautifully flat but a little twisting, and after cruising over Tower Bridge at halfway in 1:16:12, the ammo soon ran out – resulting in an unmerciful bang at The Wall.

I finished in 2:52:37: you do the math.

Just marginally quicker, too, than what Dorando Pietri ran here in the 1908 Olympic marathon, even though his extraordinary collapse and subsequent assistance cost him the gold medal.

I’m gaining a fresh understanding of those early marathon efforts – and why they often resorted to every conceivable pick-me-up. When someone offered me a handful of Jelly Beans I thanked them kindly with all my heart.

What ultimately got me through those last six miles more than anything else was the crowd. All marathon runners always say that, but never in my 40 years of running was I so desperate to drop out.

There was no way out: they were lined five or six deep at either side of the road and fantastically encouraging, and although I did spot a couple of fire exits, there was something unique in the air that told me to fight through it.

That’s what I’ve been saying too about London this summer: sure, they put sporting venues before design, whereas Beijing did it the other way round, but it’s this mass spectator appreciation for sport, not just marathon running, that will unquestionably set London apart.

In the end when we limped our way off The Mall and out on to Trafalgar Square I was stuck in the moment of excitement at how soon we’ll be back here, that these Olympic marathons could ignite like no other, and there’s an open invitation to everyone to witness it live and in person.

A moment later I was stuck on the stairwell into Charing Cross Station, crippled with leg cramps, cursing the bright spark who told me the Underground was the best way back to the hotel. Straight away an elderly woman came to my assistance, wearing a navy blue finisher’s T-shirt.

“Did you enjoy the marathon?” she asked.

KENYAN DOMINANCE: Sensational double victory for Kipsang and Keitany

FEARS THAT Kenya might be surrendering some of its dominance on world marathon-running to Ethiopia were boldly dismissed in the 32nd London Marathon – although there are still some doubts about who will represent them in the Olympic Marathon back here in just over three months’ time.

Wilson Kipsang definitely put his name in the hat with a fairly sensational victory in the men’s race, his two hours, four minutes and 44 seconds only four seconds off the course record in unexpectedly warm conditions.

Better still was Mary Keitany, who won the women’s race for the second consecutive year, her 2:18:37 shattering the Kenyan record by more than a minute, and making her the third-fastest marathon woman of all time.

While Keitany is sure to be selected, Kipsang, who ran the second-fastest marathon ever with his 2:03:42 last October, made a decisive move around 21 miles and never once looked in danger after that.

However, he will have to wait until the end of the month before knowing if he’ll be back for the Olympics, as Kenya have a selection dilemma that is the envy of the rest of the world combined.

His teammate Martin Lel, a three-time London champion, made it a one-two for Kenya, outsprinting Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia in the final 200 metres to take second in 2:06:51. But Patrick Makau, Kenya’s world record-holder with his 2:03:38, pulled off to the side around halfway and later dropped out. He faces a nervous wait, as does Abel Kirui, Kenya’s two-time world champion, who finished sixth in 2:07:56.

Kenya actually went one-two-three in the women’s race, as Edna Kiplagat, the 2011 world champion, finished second in 2:19:50, with Priscah Jeptoo was third in 2:20:14. Keitany thus establishes herself as clear favourite for the Olympics, as only Paula Radcliffe, the world record- holder in 2:15:15 (plus two other finishes under 2:18) and Liliya Shobukhova of Russia (2:18:20) have ever run faster.