LONDON — Kenyan marathoner Geoffrey Kirui took a quick glance over his shoulder, just to see if anyone was possibly closing the gap.
Nobody remotely in sight. He crossed the finish line on Tower Bridge in easy fashion, 82 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer.
A few hours later, a much different scene unfolded in the women’s race. That marathon practically ended up in a sprint as Rose Chelimo had to pull away from two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat for a seven-second victory.
A blowout and a close call in a marathon doubleheader at the world championships Sunday.
“I was not expecting to win today,” said Chelimo, who is from Kenya but now competes for Bahrain. “I tried my best and I managed to become the world champion.”
In the morning, Kirui bided his time and saved his strength for a late surge that sent him to the runaway victory. In doing so, he earned Kenya its fifth world title in the men’s marathon.
“This is the best moment of my career, easily,” said Kirui, who also won the Boston Marathon in April.
Chelimo and a few other runners remained tightly packed late into the women’s race. And when Kiplagat took off, she wondered if she had the strength to catch the Kenyan again.
“This is one of the best days in my life,” said Chelimo, who finished in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 11 seconds.
The real competition was for the silver medal, where Kiplagat barely held off hard-charging American runner Amy Cragg. It was a big day for Cragg, who took third to earn the first women’s world marathon medal for the United States since Marianne Dickerson placed second in 1983.
A medal for Cragg was very much in limbo, too, with four racers vying for the podium down the stretch.
“I was like, ‘This is the moment I’ll remember — whether or not I pushed to get closer or gave in,'” Cragg said. “It was really painful. I decided to go for it.”
The 24-year-old Kirui had such a big lead he spent the last part of the race waving to the crowd as he made his way across the finish line. He won in 2:08:27 — 1:22 ahead of Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia. Alphonce Simbu of Tanzania finished third.
“I was very, very prepared well for this race,” Kirui said.
That’s why he resisted the temptation to chase after Tola when the Ethiopian made a move in the latter stages of the race. Kirui was betting that Tola wouldn’t be able to hold that pace to the finish.
He was right. Kirui waited a few more minutes and then reeled in Tola, who was dealing with an injury to his left Achilles tendon. Tola couldn’t follow as Kirui breezed by him.
“I do not feel like I lost the gold medal,” Tola said. “Although I was in pain, I was able to finish the marathon.”
Tola earned a bronze in the 10,000 meters at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He won a marathon in Dubai this season and a half-marathon in Prague.
But this wasn’t his type of course, with all the tight turns around the four 10-kilometer loops. It was certainly scenic, with the route taking the runners along the edge of the River Thames at times and passing by London landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“The course was difficult for me with so many curves,” Tola said. “I have never run a course like this.”
It was to the liking of Kirui.
“Best course and the best crowd I have seen at a marathon,” he said.
British marathoner Callum Hawkins finished in fourth. He was fueled at the end by the cheers.
“It was crazy,” Hawkins said. “The last 5K, I couldn’t even hear my own footsteps.”
More AP track coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/London2017