Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele’s withdrawal from Sunday’s London Marathon may have taken some sheen off the event and thrown organisers into a tailspin, nonetheless, action-starved fans expect top-notch performance from the remaining stellar cast athletes.
The race will be televised live on Nation Media Group’s NTV Kenya and NTV Uganda.
Defending women’s champion Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei kicks off the show at 9:15am before compatriot and men’s champion Eliud Kipchoge steps onto the redesigned course at 12:15pm.
There has been so much buzz in the run-up to Sunday’s race after four other Abott Major Marathons were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tokyo Marathon was held early in March with only elite athletes allowed to compete. But Boston, Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons were put off to next year.
In the absence of Bekele, who pulled a calf injury and announced his withdrawal on Friday, Kipchoge who clocked the winning time of 2:02:37 in last year’s race, will be up against Ethiopian Mosinet Geremew, who finished second in London in 2019.
Mother of all battles
The world was waiting with bated breath for the mother of all battles before Kenenisa’s unfortunate withdrawal.
Kipchoge holds the 2:01:39 world record, which Berlin Marathon champion Bekele missed by two seconds. Bekele, the second fastest men’s marathon runner, clocked 2:01:41 in Berlin last year.
Kenyan athletes in the men’s start list include the 2016 Mumbai Marathon champion Gideon Kipketer, Amsterdam Marathon winner Vincent Kipchumba, Rotterdam Marathon champion Marius Kipserem and former Toronto Marathon winner Benson Kipruto.
The Ethiopian team consists of the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships marathon silver medallist Geremew, Sisay Lemma, who finished third in Tokyo Marathon this year, Shura Kitata who was second in 2018 London Marathon, Mule Wasihun who was third in London Marathon last year and the 2017 Dubai Marathon champion Tamirat Tola.
In the women’s contest, Kosgei faces compatriots world marathon champion Ruth Chepng’etich, Olympics 5,000 metres champion Vivian Cheruiyot, who won in London in 2018 and finished second to Kosgei last year, Frankfurt Marathon champion Valary Aiyabei and debutant Edith Chelimo.
Other competitors are Ethiopians Ashete Bekere, Alemu Megertu, Sinead Diver (Australia), Carla Salome Mocha (Portugal), Steph Twell and Lily Patridge (Britain) as well as Sara Hall from the USA.
The women’s pacemakers are Pauline Kamulu, Sandrafelis Chebet, Lydia Mathathi, Nancy Jelagat, Aly Dixon, Charlotte Arter and Susan Krumins.
Kenyan athletes flew out of the country last Sunday aboard a chartered flight via Addis Ababa. The runners did Covid-19 tests.
Financial constraints caused by coronavirus mean the prize structure is reduced by almost 50% this year.
Organisers changed the course of the marathon which was postponed from April 26. Athletes will compete in a 2.15km closed course at St. James’s Park for 19 laps and an extra 1,345m to the traditional finish line. No fans will be allowed at the venue.
Kipchoge, who has been juggling between training and supporting vulnerable athletes in the lead up to the London Marathon, is satisfied with his preparations.
“It has been a while since I last competed. I’m looking forward to a great race. It’s unfortunate that Bekele withdrew due to a calf injury and I want to wish him well and quick recovery,” said Kipchoge, who trains at Kaptagat in Elgeyo Marakwet County.
For Kipserem, who paced Kipchoge during the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna on October 12 last year, it will be a dream come true to compete with his village mate.
“I’ve always dreamed of competing against my mentor Kipchoge. I know it will be an interesting race, I will do best. I want to run a personal best,” said Kipserem.
The men’s pacemakers are Alfred Barkach, Jonathan Korir, Nicholas Kipkemboi, Eric Kiptanui, Shadrack Kimining, Mo Farah and Matt Clowes.
Kosgei said despite the challenges she faced after training camps were closed due to the virus, she is keen on defending her title.
“It will be exciting to compete in a loop because I have never done so before. I trained at my favourite place in Kapsait,” said the soft-spoken athlete.
Kosgei won last year after crossing the line in 2:18:20, Cheruiyot came second in 2:20:14 while Roza Dereje was third in 2:20:51.
For her part, Chepng’etich said she is eager to run in her first major marathon.
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