They were all winners, of course; the thousands who finished the gruelling course, and even those who, in one case tragically, didn’t.
Chris Brasher, the man who brought the marathon here, knew this when he reflected on his efforts in New York in 1979, which paved the way for London: ‘I was one of those thousands who won the New York marathon. It was a great personal victory over doubt and fear, body and mind.’
At the sharp end of the race, the outcomes were, in a general sense, predictable. Kenyan and Ethiopian runners dominated. The first five women home were Kenyan; the Ethiopians had to make do with sixth place and ninth. It was Kenya 1-2 in the men’s, with the Ethiopian, Tsegaye Kedebe, a hard running third. As in London, so in Boston recently, where Kenyan runners completed a remarkable 1-2-3 double. Nobody else got a look in.
The dominance of East African runners in long distance events is nothing new. The provenance of these elite runners from two distinct but, in many ways, similar regions in Kenya and Ethiopia has long been noted: many of the Kenyan winners come from the Kalenjin tribe who have the good fortune to train on the highlands of the Great Rift Valley, often at altitudes of more than 7,000 feet.
Many of the Ethiopian champions come from a small town called Bekoji about four hours south of Addis Ababa and at an altitude of around 10,000 feet. The concentration of talent from this town of just 16,000 people is remarkable: Fatuma Roba (marathon), Derartu Tulu (10,000m), Kenenisa Bekele (5,000m and 10,000m) and Tirunesh Didaba (5,000m and10,000m) are four gold medal champions that Bekoji has produced in the last half dozen Olympic games alone, not to mention other world champions at a variety of middle and long distances, or the greatest of them all, Haile Gebrselassie, who comes from nearby Asella……