Abel Kirui of Kenya wins the Marathon World Championships gold medal in Daegu (Getty Images) © Copyright
Wilson Kipsang, perhaps the hottest marathoner in the world at the moment, leads the charge in hopes of making it two-for-two in London this year. The 30-year-old took down an impressive field at the Flora London Marathon in April in 2:04:44, the second fastest performance of the year. He won both his marathons in 2011 - 2:06:13 in Otsu and 2:03:42 (PB) in Frankfurt - before coming to the fore in 2010. After a 2:07:13 debut for third in Paris that year, he found his rhythm later that fall clocking a sensational 2:04:57 for his first victory in Frankfurt.
Like Kipsang, Abel Kirui is 30 as well but is no stranger to major title races as witnessed by his back-to-back World titles in 2009 and 2011. This year he clocked a respectable 2:07:56 for sixth in London and has a 2:05:04 PB from 2009.
Emmanuel Mutai, the 2009 World Championships silver medallist, is a consistent racer who more often than not finishes near the front. 2011 was a terrific year for the now 27-year-old, as he collected a victory a 2:04:40 victory in London (his current PB) and finished second in New York with an impressive – considering the course - 2:06:28. The year before he finished second at both London (2:06:23) and New York. He hasn't however raced since a sub-par seventh place (2:08:01) showing in London this past April, so his form is difficult to assess.
The primary challengers? Athletes from rival Ethiopia of course, led by Ayele Abshero. Just 21 and running in his debut over the distance, Abshero stunned the Marathon world with his 2:04:23 victory in Dubai in January. He broke a course record set by legend Haile Gebrselassie and found himself sitting in the No. 4 position all-time. Not too shabby for a young runner who admitted, "I thought I could run 2:04 today, but it’s hard to plan for your first Marathon. Really I just didn’t know what was going to happen."
He's raced sparingly since, winning a low-key Half Marathon in Yangzhou (1:01:11) in last April and finishing second over 10Km (27:56) in Manchester in late May.
Dubai was important for Ethiopian selectors. The runner-up in that race, Dino Sefir, ran the performance of his career, clocking 2:04:50, to land in the No. 9 position all-time, and the fourth fastest of the season. He too has raced sparingly since, so his form is a mystery as well.
The Ethiopian No. 3 is 25-year-old Getu Feleke, the Rotterdam runner-up this season with a PB 2:04:50. He ran 2:05:44 to win in Amsterdam last October, so he's produced the goods to back up his selection.
Illustrating the depth that these two nations have is this simple stat: the first 29 on this season's world list hail from either Kenya or Ethiopia, all at 2:07:28 or faster. The first non-Ethiopian or Kenyan name to appear is that of Frenchman Patrick Tambwe courtesy of a 2:07:30 victory in Tiberias.
Others who could threaten for a podium finish include top Moroccan entry Adil Annani (2:07:43, 4th in London), Japan's Arata Fujiwara (2:07:48) and Stephen Kiprotich (2:07:50) of Uganda. Another veteran to watch is Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 bronze medallist, who won the U.S. Trials in January.
And finally, an important footnote: While its historical origins are in Greece, the Marathon will nonetheless come home in a very real sense this year. It was at the London Games in 1908 that the event adopted its current and since standard 42.195km distance when its start was moved to the east lawn of Windsor Castle and finished in front of the Royal Box at White City Stadium.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF