Elite Women’s Preview: Keitany versus Dibaba in hunt for historic record
After her brilliant women-only world record of 2:17:01 last year, Mary Keitany will start as favourite to win the women’s London Marathon title for a fourth time on Sunday 22 April, a feat only the great Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen has ever achieved.
In doing so, the 36-year-old Kenyan will attempt to smash Paula Radcliffe’s outright marathon world record, set 15 years ago on the London course. Like Radcliffe, Keitany will run with male pacemakers in her bid to finish inside the Briton’s iconic mark of 2:15:25.
Keitany went through the half-way point last April more than a minute faster than Radcliffe in 2003 but slowed in the last five miles, finally falling behind the Briton’s searing finishing speed after her pacemaker dropped out in the second half.
The three-time London Marathon champion is undaunted by the challenge, however, saying: “The marathon world record is something I have been working towards for several years and now I feel I can really attack the time of 2:15:25.
“At last year’s London Marathon, I was feeling good but it was hard to run nearly half the race on my own. By having male pacemakers, I will be able to have support throughout the race.
“Obviously, any world record is contingent on everything being right on the day. London has shown it has the course for world records to be broken and I hope my form and health stay strong and that the weather is kind on the day.
“I know the record was set by Paula Radcliffe on this course in 2003 and that she is a very popular person in Great Britain but I really hope the London crowds get behind my challenge and can help drive me on to achieve something incredible.”
Keitany won’t just be racing against the clock, however, for she will again have to overcome Tirunesh Dibaba, the irrepressible Ethiopian who chased her to the line 12 months ago to become the third fastest woman in history with 2:17:56.
The triple Olympic track champion went on to win the Chicago Marathon last autumn in another brilliant time and will provide stern opposition as she seeks to become the first Ethiopian winner since 2015 and only the fourth from that country in London Marathon history.
With those two at the top of the line-up, this will be the first marathon ever to include two women who have run quicker than 2:18 while four in the field have broken the 2:20 barrier and seven have finished inside 2:22. In all, there are two world champions and six winners of Abbott World Marathon Majors races among this year’s elite women, making it one of the greatest fields in marathon history.
Keitany will be joined by three fellow Kenyans: Gladys Cherono, who has won the Berlin Marathon twice in the last two years; Olympic 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, who was fourth last year and won the Frankfurt Marathon in October; and Brigid Kosgei, who placed second behind Dibaba in Chicago.
Tirunesh’s namesake, Mare Dibaba, also competes in London again. The 2015 world champion and Olympic bronze medallist was sixth on her London debut in 2016 but dropped out last year after falling behind in the chase to catch Keitany.
Another Ethiopian, Tigist Tufa, returns to London for a fourth appearance, the 2015 champion going for a rare second victory. She just missed out on retaining her London Marathon crown in 2016, when she was runner-up by five seconds. She was eighth 12 months ago.
Tadelech Bekele shouldn’t be discounted either. The 27-year-old won the Amsterdam Marathon in October in 2:21:54, lowering her personal best for the second time in 2017.
The current world champion, Rose Chelimo of Bahrain, is hoping for another win in the British capital as she returns to the city where she clinched gold in glorious sunshine last August.
Tracy Barlow and Lily Partridge lead the British women’s challenge as they pursue European Championship places in the absence of the injured Charlotte Purdue.