Check the clock. Are we on for a Blog Olympic Record? Whatever that may look like? You see we’re up to part 3 in our series looking back at the last 25 years of sporting events in London. Once again we’re recounting the goss’ that would’ve been topics of conversation the loading bays, lifts and corridors of our self-storage facilities. The chatter which, if our reception counters could talk, they’d say I remember when…
2003 – Paula Radcliffe smashes the Women’s World Marathon Record
The bends in the Thames between Putney and Chiswick played host to their 149th Boat Race, described by Sir Steve Redgrave as the “greatest we’ll see in our lifetimes”. Oxford held on to beat a fast-finishing Cambridge by 30cm (one foot) in the narrowest winning margin in the race’s history – only the debated dead heat in 1877 (when there were no marker posts at the finish and the weather was especially poor) was closer.
Home favourite Paula Radcliffe made the 2003 Marathon a race to remember. With the (mildly controversial) help of two male pacemakers, she blitzed her own world record by a massive 1 minute, 53 to complete the distance in 2:15:25. the men’s race was thrilling, with Ethiopian Gezahegne Abera pipping Stefano Baldini on the line. Both were given a finishing time of 2:07:56 – which makes Paula Radcliffe’s women’s record look properly impressive.
With Wembley stadium in the process of being rebuilt the FA Cup was played in Cardiff again during 2003, but London side and cup holders Arsenal made their 16th appearance in the final – beating Southampton 1-0 to take their tally of victories in the competition to 9 overall.
As in the Women’s final, a new era of dominance was dawning in the men’s singles – a Swiss named Roger Federer beat Australian Mark Philippoussis in three straight sets to win his first Wimbledon Championship. The Williams Sisters were at it again – facing each other in the final – with Serena retaining her Championship for the second successive year.
2004 – Shock Defeat for Williams at Wimbledon.
The 150th Boat Race wasn’t quite the spectacle of the previous year, although there were several oar clashes and losers Oxford did appeal for a re-row. In the end, Cambridge won by 6 lengths to bring their first victory since 2001.
Kenya’s Evan Rutto made it look easy, cruising to victory in 2:06:18 – the second quickest time of 2004 to that point. Paula Radcliffe sat out the women’s elite, choosing instead to prepare for the Athens Olympics. The race was won by Kenya’s Margaret Okayo (making it a kenyan double for the two big spots), after a tactical battle with Romania’s Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who tired near the finish and came in third.
London had a presence in Cardiff for the FA Cup – but not one that you might have predicted – as Premier League Manchester United took on First Division Millwall, the London club eventually losing 3-0 to the Red Devils.
At Wimbledon, Serena Williams made it through to her third successive woman’s singles final but was beaten in a shock upset by 17-year-old Russian Maria Sharapova, who dispatched her in straight sets 6-1, 6-3. Roger Federer faced Andy Roddick, beating the American in four sets to secure his second successive Wimbledon crown.
2005 – Radcliffe makes it 3 wins from 3 starts in the Marathon.
As ITV took over the coverage for the first time, the race featured 7 Olympic Rowers. It was eventually won by Oxford by two lengths in a quick time of 16 minutes and 41 seconds. The win pegged them one win closer to Cambridge in the overall 78-72 record.
The London Marathon saw Paula Radcliffe triumph in another super-quick time of 2:17:42 – the third fastest ever and World Record for a Women only race (without Male pacemakers). The men’s Race boasted one of the best fields ever including four Kenyans – Evans Rutto, Martin Lel, Paul Tergat and Sammy Korir and two Moroccans Jaouad Gharib and two time London winner Abdelkader El Mouaziz. It was a finish of pace and attrition, with the eventual winner Lel coming home in 2:07:26.
Despite it being played in Wales, London maintained an interest in the FA Cup for a third year in a row, Arsenal continued their impressive run of form, facing 2004’s victors Manchester United. Deadlocked after extra time, Arsenal won 5-4 on penalties to take their tally in the competition to 10 from 17 appearances.
Roger Federer faced Andy Roddick in the final at Wimbledon and this time beat him in 3 straight sets to retain his Championship and record his third successive win in the Tournament. Venus Williams put her previous year of not making it to the final behind her and defeated Lindsay Davenport to take her third Championship.
2006 – Spanish Eyes at Wimbledon.
In the boat race, it was nip and tuck in tricky conditions for the first half of the race. Cambridge were ahead early on, but Oxford came back to the front from halfway and pulled out a 5 length advantage by the finish line.
The women’s Elite race in the London Marathon didn’t see the pace of Paula Radcliffe’s record-busting times in previous years, but was still fairly swift – American Deena Kastor aiming to go sub 2:20 for the first time in her career. She executed her plan perfectly and won in a time of 2:19:36. The men’s elite race continued to attract a world-class field and all the big names from the previous year. It was neck and neck between 2005 winner Lel, but was beaten to the line by his friend and Kenyan compatriot Felix Limo.
The FA Cup – played in Cardiff final time in 2006 before returning to newly rebuilt Wembley – once again had London representation as West Ham faced Liverpool. At the end of the match, it was deadlocked at 3 – 3. Liverpool broke the Hammer’s fans hearts, beating the East Londoners 3-1 on penalties.
At Wimbledon, a close game with two tie-break sets saw a rising Spanish star made his mark in the men’s singles as Rafael Nadal was narrowly beaten by Roger Federer. In the women’s tournament neither Willams sisters made the final and Amelie Mauresmo came back to defeat Justine Henin-Hardenne, after losing the first set.
2007 – London’s Global Appeal
The Boat Race was a truly international affair – featuring the highest number of non-British athletes in the crews in the history of the contest. Cambridge – by far the heavier boat – put all that raw power to good use and beat Oxford by a relatively narrow one and a quarter length in a time of 17 minutes and 49 seconds.
In the Marathon the men’s elite race again featured an all-star cast, in what might be regarded as a bit of a replay of 2005, Martin Lel regained his title after tactically outwitting his rivals to win in 2:07:47. The women’s race was full of Eastern Promise – with China’s first win by relatively unknown Zhou Chunxiu, her time a minute slower than the previous year.
The first FA Cup to be played at the newly rebuilt Wembley Stadium saw Londoners Chelsea pitted against Manchester United. Deadlocked 0 – 0 at 90 minutes, it looked like another Cup Match that might be decided by penalties – only for club favourite Didier Drogba to put the blues ahead in the 116th minute and Chelsea won 1-0.
Venus Williams made the final – from a lowly seeding rank of 23 – against Marion Bartoli, seeded 18 – making them the lowest seeded opponents in any final in the Championship’s history. Roger Federer also served himself into the record books, overcoming Nadal in the final for the second year running – and equalling Björn Borg’s tally of five straight Wimbledon Men’s Singles titles.
Tune in again shortly for Part 4 – as we count down what happened on the River, streets, stadium and grass courts of London.