The Elite Men’s Group | 23rd April 10:00 am
The last time the London Marathon failed to produce a Kenyan or Ethiopian winner of the elite men’s race, Tony Blair was poised to celebrate his fifth anniversary as Prime Minister, Gareth Gates was inexplicably number one with Unchained Melody and Tiger Woods abandoned his extra-marital pursuits just long enough to clinch his second successive Masters title at Augusta.
The date was 14 April 2002 and the winner in the capital was America’s Khalid Khannouchi, in what was a world record time. Since then the world’s best male marathoners have taken to the streets of the Big Smoke 14 subsequent times, with seven Kenyan athletes and two Ethiopian runners taking the tape after 26 miles and 385 energy-sapping yards.
The east African stranglehold on the race looks unlikely to be loosened this year with Ethiopia legend Kenenisa Bekele the hot favourite to outpace the pack. The 34-year-old is already a three-time Olympic gold medallist and made headlines in September last year when he won the Berlin Marathon in two hours, three minutes and three seconds: the second fastest time in marathon history.
Bekele’s biggest challenge in London, on Sunday, looks likely to come from compatriots Tesfaye Abera and Feyisa Lilesa. Abera is the reigning Hamburg Marathon champion, while Lilesa claimed silver at last year’s Rio Olympics and also won the Tokyo Marathon in 2016.
The Kenyan challenge this year is spearheaded by Abel Kirui, the two-time former world champion and silver medallist at the 2012 London Olympics. Fellow countrymen Daniel Wanjiru and Bedan Karoki Muchiri are also expected to be in contention at the business end of the race.
Hopes of a first British winner rest with veteran Chris Thompson, who could match Eamonn Martin’s success back in 1993. The 36-year-old came home in 11th in London three years ago on his debut, and with selection for Team GB for the World Championships later in the year still up for grabs, he’s got plenty to run for.
The Elite Women’s Group | 23rd April 09:20 am
The elite women’s race is predicted to be dominated by Kenya, with Mary Keitany the athlete to beat. The 35-year-old is the second-fastest female marathoner of all time – second only to Paula Radcliffe – and having won over the course in 2011 and 2012, she knows this route well.
Keitany wrapped up a hat-trick of victories in the New York Marathon in November. Although a collision saw her finish in a disappointing ninth in the capital last year, should she triumph this Sunday, she will become only the fourth woman to win three times in London.
A trio of fellow Kenyans will keep Keitany honest. Two-time Chicago Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat was third last year and will look to clinch the crown. Helah Kiprop is a 2015 World Championship silver medallist, while 33-year-old Vivian Cheruiyot is making her marathon debut this weekend after winning Olympic gold in the 5,000 metres in Rio last year.
The British charge will be spearheaded by the evergreen Jo Pavey, as the 43-year-old vies with Alyson Dixon, Charlotte Purdue and Susan Partridge for selection for London’s World Championships in August.
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