Elite Men's Preview: Wanjiru defends against three of the greats
Daniel Wanjiru will face a daunting task when he defends his London Marathon title against three of the greatest distance runners of their generation on Sunday 22 April.
Wanjiru was a surprise winner of the 2017 men’s race when he held off the challenge of Ethiopian track legend Kenenisa Bekele to clinch his first Abbott World Marathon Majors victory and succeed Olympic gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge as London Marathon champion.
At just 24, Wanjiru had only three marathons behind him and just one victory – although that was a spectacular triumph, coming at the Amsterdam Marathon in October 2016 when he took almost three minutes from his personal best to beat a field of far more experienced runners.
In London, he proved that performance was no fluke when he made a break just before the 21-mile mark and battled hard over the final five miles to beat the fast-finishing Bekele who had fallen behind after suffering with blisters caused by ill-fitting shoes. “I am the happiest man in the world,” said the Kenyan afterwards.
Both Bekele and Kipchoge, the second and third fastest men in history over 26.2 miles, will be back on the London start line in 2018 alongside Britain’s multiple world and Olympic track champion, Mo Farah, who became the second fastest British marathon runner on his debut four years ago and defeated Wanjiru in the Vitality Big Half in London last month.
Bekele and Kipchoge will start as the two fastest in the field, heading a line-up that contains three who have run the distance under 2 hours 4 minutes and seven who have finished quicker than 2:06. Among them are five World Marathon Majors winners and two former world champions.
Kipchoge returns to London looking to make it a hat-trick of wins in the British capital after skipping last year’s race for a stab at breaking the two-hour barrier. The Kenyan superstar triumphed in 2015 and was an agonising eight seconds away from the current world record of 2:02:57 when he won again a year later.
“The Virgin Money London Marathon is a race that holds very special memories for me,” said the 33-year-old who became the fastest marathon runner in history when he clocked 2:00:25 in an unratified race in Monza, Italy, last May.
“I won it in 2015 and 2016 and both are days I will never forget. I came close to breaking the world record in 2016 and it is natural for anyone in that situation to think what might have been. But that race gave me the confidence to go on and win the Olympic title in Rio and run so well throughout 2017.”
Kipchoge was again close to the world record in Berlin last September when he finished in 2:03:32, just 35 seconds off the mark set by his countryman Dennis Kimetto in 2014.
“I feel like I’m in good form,” said Kipchoge. “Berlin was difficult because the weather was not good but my time showed I was in the right shape. I know I have the world record in me so we will have to wait and see what happens.”
With his best of 2:03:03, Bekele is the second quickest man in history and the fastest in the London field. After finishing third on his London debut in 2015, the 35-year-old placed second last year when he came agonisingly close to catching Wanjiru in the closing stages.
He is joined by compatriot Guye Adola who ran the fastest debut in history when runner-up behind Kipchoge in Berlin last September. Having led the race until the final few miles, the 27-year-old became the seventh quickest marathoner of all time when he crossed the line in 2:03:46, just 14 seconds after the winner.
The Kenyan challenge is boosted by the experienced Abel Kirui, a two-time world champion who won the Chicago Marathon in 2016 and was second there last October. Also in the field is Bedan Karoki who clinched third on his debut last year and ran the fourth fastest half marathon in history in the United Arab Emirates this February.
But they will be without Stanley Biwott, a former New York Marathon champion who was runner-up behind Kipchoge in London two years ago. Biwott has had to withdraw from the race with a left leg injury that prevented him from training for two weeks.
Former world and New York champion, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, is one of three talented Eritreans in the line-up, while Farah heads a select British cast that includes Rio Olympian Tsegai Tewelde and the fast-improving Jonny Mellor.
While that pair will train their sights on selection for the European Championships, Farah is focused on a bigger prize – breaking Steve Jones’ long-held British record of 2:07:13 and perhaps cracking the European record of 2:05:48, a time that could well put him on the London Marathon podium.