Elite women's preview: Tufa returns to take on Keitany
Tigist Tufa will return to the scene of her greatest triumph when she lines up to defend her Virgin Money London Marathon title against the woman she beat to win the coveted crown in 2015 and the woman who won the world title last summer.
Tufa upset the odds when she outran four much-fancied Kenyans to take victory last year, becoming only the third Ethiopian ever to win the women’s race - after Aselefech Mergia was awarded the 2010 title - on a day that saw record numbers cross the London Marathon Finish Line. Tufa was at the head of them all, producing a devastating burst in the last three miles to clinch a shock win in front of two-time champion Mary Keitany.
She returns to the British capital in 2016 determined to show that last year’s triumph was no fluke after finishing sixth at the Beijing World Championships last August, a race won by fellow Ethiopian Mare Dibaba, and third at the New York City Marathon where Keitany enjoyed her second victory last November.
“Winning in London was the greatest moment of my career so far,” said Tufa, who won the Shanghai and Ottawa marathons in 2014. “I am happy to be returning to London in 2016 to defend my title. I know it won’t be easy because the London fields are always the best in the world, but I am determined to do my best again.”
The 28-year-old denied Keitany a third London Marathon victory last year and the Kenyan looks set to be Tufa’s main rival in 2016. Keitany smashed the African record with 2:18:37, the fourth fastest time in history, when she won the London Marathon for a second time in 2012 but she needed a sprint finish to secure last year’s runner-up spot by one second.
Keitany is again the fastest woman on the start list, one of nine in the elite field with personal bests better than 2:25, while four have run the gruelling 26.2-mile challenge in under 2:20.
Dibaba is one of that quartet, with a best of 2:19:52. She is a former Chicago Marathon champion who runs in London for the first time.
London’s sub-2:20 club also includes Florence Kiplagat, the world half-marathon record holder who won last year’s Chicago Marathon. Kiplagat runs in London for the fifth time in 2016 seeking her first victory. She was fifth last year.
Mergia, another of Tufa’s compatriots, also falls into that elite bracket. A three-time winner of the lucrative Dubai Marathon, the 2010 champion will be hoping to make the podium again after finishing fourth last year.
The four-strong Kenyan challenge is completed by Priscah Jeptoo, the Olympic bronze medallist who was a London Marathon winner three years ago, and Jemima Sumgong, a former Rotterdam Marathon champion who was sixth in 2015, one place ahead of Jeptoo.
The European challenge is led by Portugal’s Jessica Augusto and Volha Mazuronak from Belarus. Augusto ran a personal best to place sixth in London in 2014, her third top 10 finish, while Mazuronak was ninth last year in a PB.