Elite Men's Preview: Bekele Tops a Stunning Field
Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele tops the list of world class contenders for the men’s elite race. Already a triple Olympic champion and double world record holder on the track, Bekele became the world’s second fastest marathon runner of all time when he won the 2016 Berlin Marathon last September.
He missed the world record by just six seconds when he crossed the line in the German capital in two hours three minutes three seconds after a thrilling battle with former world record holder Wilson Kipsang. It was the fastest marathon in the world in 2016 and broke Haile Gebrselassie’s Ethiopian record, sending a powerful message to the selectors who had left him out of Ethiopia’s team for the Rio Olympic Games.
Now Bekele aims to strike another blow for his country as he seeks to become only the third Ethiopian man ever to win the coveted London Marathon title and the first since two-time winner Tsegaye Kebede in 2013.
Bekele made his London Marathon debut last April when he ran an impressive race to finish third behind Kenyan duo of Eliud Kipchoge and Stanley Biwott despite not being fully fit. Now regarded as one of the true marathon elites, he will have Kipchoge’s course record of 2:03:05 in his sights, and perhaps even Dennis Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57.
“London is the greatest marathon in the world and I would love to win there,” said Bekele. “The field is always the best and victory means so much. After finishing third last year, I know what I need to do to win.”
Biwott, who won the 2015 New York City Marathon, finished runner-up in 2014, fourth in 2015 and second again last year in a personal best of 2:03:51. He was set to be Bekele’s main rival this year but has been forced to pull out of the race with a persistent hamstring injury.
However, Bekele will still face five opponents who have run marathons quicker than 2:06, while the field contains two marathon world champions, three of the top five finishers from last summer’s Olympic Games, and the winners of the Abbott World Marathon Majors races in Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and New York in 2016.
As ever, the main contenders come from east Africa with the Ethiopian contingent especially strong. Bekele’s compatriots include Rio Olympic silver medallist and 2016 Tokyo Marathon champion Feyisa Lilesa, the 2016 Dubai and Hamburg Marathon champion Tesfaye Abera, and Tilahun Regassa, who is aiming to make the London podium after finishing fifth and sixth in the last two years.
In Biwott’s absence, it falls to Abel Kirui and Daniel Wanjiru to lead the Kenyan challenge.
The experienced Kirui, who won the world marathon title in 2011 and 2013, returns to London for the first time since 2012 when he was fifth just four months before winning Olympic silver in the same city. After a number of years without a major victory, he was a surprise winner of the 2016 Chicago Marathon last October and will be looking for another strong performance as he seeks selection for Kenya’s 2017 World Championship team.
Wanjiru will also be one to watch after he lowered his personal best by almost three minutes to win last October’s Amsterdam Marathon in 2:05:21.
Kirui won’t be the only world champion on show as Eritrea’s young star Ghirmay Ghebreslassie returns to London after finishing fourth last April in a PB 2:07:46. The 21-year-old became the youngest global marathon champion ever when he won the 2015 world title in Beijing at the age of 19. He enhanced his status as one of the world’s best when he claimed the 2016 New York Marathon crown last November just three months after placing fourth at the Rio Games in August.
A number of Britain’s best will be out in force too seeking a place on the London 2017 World Championship team. Former European 10,000m silver medallist Chris Thompson, London 2012 Olympian Scott Overall and Rio Olympian Tsegai Tewelde are the leading contenders.
Thompson was 11th on his debut in London three years ago but could only finish 16th last year when Tewelde, a former Eritrean asylum seeker, was the surprise package. Overall will be hoping to summon the form which saw him place fifth in Berlin a few years ago.