David Weir aims to win his eighth men’s wheelchair title when he races the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 22 April with a record US$25,000 on offer to the winner.

Weir became the London Marathon’s most successful champion in 2017 when he clinched a seventh victory while Manuela Schär of Switzerland smashed the women’s wheelchair course record to take her first win.

Both champions are back to defend their crowns in 2018 when the award for first place is increased by $5,000 and the overall wheelchair prize purse boosted to $142,700, making the London Marathon wheelchair races the richest in the world.

With increased awards for the first 10 finishers in each race, it’s no surprise that the 2018 wheelchair fields are two of the largest in London Marathon history and competition for the coveted titles will be hotter than ever.

The chief threat to Weir will again come from Swiss superstar Marcel Hug who has won the London crown twice in recent years and was just one second behind the Briton last April.

The man nicknamed the ‘Silver Bullet’ has been dominant on the marathon circuit since 2016. He won the Paralympic title in Rio, took the inaugural Abbott World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series in 2017 and bounced back from his London defeat to clinch victories in Berlin, Chicago and New York last autumn.

London course record holder Kurt Fearnley will also be seeking a third London win after placing third in last year’s race. The Australian won Paralympic titles in 2004 and 2008, broke the London course record in 2009 and has been Hug’s most consistent challenger over the last two seasons.

South Africa’s 10-time Boston winner Ernst van Dyk will also be in the hunt. He is looking for his first London victory on his 13th appearance.

Others likely to challenge for medals include Joshua George, the 2015 world champion, the veteran world record holder, Heinz Frei of Switzerland, and a talented group of Japanese racers headed by Kota Hokinoue, who was second in Berlin last year, and Sho Watanabe, who beat Hug in Tokyo in 2017.

Britain’s rising star, Johnboy Smith, could also be a contender. Smith lies fourth in the current Majors standings after placing fifth in Berlin and second in New York.

The women’s field is just as loaded with Schär facing a daunting trio of Americans in Tatyana McFadden, Amanda McGrory and Susannah Scaroni.

Schär followed her record-breaking victories in Boston and London last spring with further wins in Berlin and New York. But McFadden got the better of her in Chicago and the US star and World Marathon Majors champion will be keen to regain the London crown she won four times in a row between 2013 and 2016.

McGrory is also in good form having placed second in Boston, London and Chicago in 2017 before taking third in New York. She won the London title in 2009 and 2011 and has been on the podium no fewer than six times.

China’s Paralympic champion Zou Lihong is another potential threat while up and coming Australian Madison de Rozario was a top-five finisher in Chicago and New York last autumn.

British hopes rest with Jade Jones who made the top five in London for the first time last year with a personal best and will be looking to improve again in 2018.

The 2018 wheelchair races are again part of the World Para Athletics Marathon World Cup held in association with the Virgin Money London Marathon for the fifth time.

The World Cup’s seven events for para-athletes have produced 10 world records since they were first held in 2013 and provide global competition for elite athletes with visual and limb impairments as well as wheelchair racers.

This year’s entries include all seven of last year’s winners including USA’s Ray Martin who won the T51/52 wheelchair category for a third time last year. Martin is a six-time Paralympic champion on the track and clinched the world 100m gold medal in London last summer. He will again take on Cristian Torres over 26.2m miles, the Colombian he beat by two minutes in 2017.

Japanese pair Shinya Wada and Misato Michishita return to defend their T11/12 titles in the races for athletes with visual impairments, while Poland’s Patryk Lakaszewski, who won the T13 event last year, faces a six-strong field, the largest for that category in World Cup in history.

Brazil’s Alex Pires da Silva will go head-to-head with Spain’s world champion Abderrahman Ait Khamouch as he bids to retain the T45/46 crown he won last year. Ait Khamouch broke the world record when he took the title here in 2015, beating da Silva by less than a minute.

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