Last year's Virgin Money London Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge will take on 2014 champion Wilson Kipsang when the two Kenyans face each other in this year’s IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday 24 April, organisers announced on Tuesday (19).
Kipchoge beat two-time champion Kipsang by just five seconds in a thrilling sprint finish at the end of last year’s 35th race, with fellow Kenyan and world record-holder Dennis Kimetto left trailing in their wake in third place.
Kipchoge’s winning time of 2:04:42 was just outside Kipsang’s course record of 2:04:29 set in 2014. The 2003 world 5000m champion went on to win the Berlin Marathon last September in a personal best of 2:04:00.
He is now sixth on the world all-time list for the distance behind Kimetto’s historic best of 2:02:57 and Kipsang’s former world record of 2:03:23.
Kimetto also returns to London in 2016 hoping to improve on his third place last year. Stanley Biwott is the fourth outstanding Kenyan in the field, running in London for the fourth time after finishing fourth last year, second in 2014 and eighth in 2013.
Biwott should be full of confidence after an impressive victory at the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon.
With Rio 2016 Olympic places to be won, there will be even more at stake for the Kenyan runners in 2016 when the quartet toe the London start line again in pursuit of one of world running’s most prestigious prizes.
“It was fantastic to win the Virgin Money London Marathon last year against one of the greatest fields ever assembled in marathon running,” said Kipchoge.
“This year I will come back to London to compete again with the world's best athletes," he added. "I will work hard to defend my title in London and, together with Wilson, Dennis, Stanley and those from other countries, make it a fast and wonderful race. I want to thank the organisation for again bringing the best athletes in marathon running together in London, it's great for our sport."
Kipchoge’s superb record of five wins and one second place from six marathon starts since 2013 will make him the marginal favourite. But the elite men’s field contains the top five finishers from 2015, five men who have run the 26.2-mile distance faster than 2:05:00, and 16 who have finished quicker than 2:10:00.
Kipsang and Kimetto have something to prove
Biwott, Kimetto and Kipsang are likely to be the reigning champion’s main challengers, with the latter two looking to make amends after dropping out of the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 marathon last August.
Kipsang has always shown great form in London with victories in 2012 and 2014, but he was unable to retain his New York title in November when he finished fourth.
Kimetto will also feel he has something to prove. He also dropped out in the early stages of December’s Fukuoka Marathon and hasn’t won a race since his world record victory in Berlin in 2014.
However, the Kenyans will be challenged by runners from neighbouring east African countries, not least Ethiopia’s triple Olympic gold medallist and multi-world-record breaking track champion, Kenenisa Bekele, and Eritrea’s teenage hero from the 2015 World Championships, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie.
The 33-year-old Bekele moved up to take on the ultimate distance challenge in 2014 when he won the Paris Marathon in 2:05:04 before finishing fourth in Chicago that October.
Injury kept him out of action in 2015, and he will be keen to make his mark on a long-awaited return to the roads against one of the toughest fields he’s ever faced.
Ethiopia’s talented quartet also includes Tilahun Regassa, who was fifth in London last year, 2015 Tokyo Marathon champion Endeshaw Negesse, plus last year’s Rotterdam champion Abera Kuma, all men who have run quicker than 2:06:00.
Ghebreslassie, who became the surprise world champion in Beijing, makes his first appearance in London alongside four compatriots: former Eritrean record-holder Samuel Tsegay, Ghebrezgiabhier Kibrom, who finished eighth last year, Amanuel Mesel, who was ninth in Beijing, and Tewelde Estifanos, last year’s champion at the Oita Marathon in Japan.
Ukraine’s nine-time European cross-country champion Serhiy Lebid is the top European in the line-up. He finished 10th last year.
Arne Gabius also earns a place following his German record when finishing fourth in Frankfurt last October, while Poland’s former steeplechaser Marcin Chabowski and Lebid's compatriot Vitaliy Shafar could also be top-10 contenders.
No fewer than 13 Britons will be on the elite Blue Start with hopes of securing a place on Team GB’s Rio-bound Olympic plane.
Londoner Scott Overall and Scot Callum Hawkins have already beaten the Olympic qualifying time of 2:14 with confident autumn runs in Berlin and Frankfurt respectively. They just need to be among the first two Britons across the line to guarantee a ticket to South America.
Among those hoping to join them are Chris Thompson, the 2010 European 10,000m silver medallist who was 11th on his marathon debut two years ago, and Derek Hawkins.
Organisers for the IAAF
Elite men's field (and personal bests):
Dennis Kimetto (KEN) 2:02:57
Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2:03:23
Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:04:00
Endeshaw Negesse (ETH) 2:04:52
Stanley Biwott (KEN) 2:04:55
Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 2:05:04
Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 2:05:27
Abera Kuma (ETH) 2:05:56
Samuel Tsegay (ERI) 2:07:28
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI) 2:07:47
Amanuel Mesel (ERI) 2:08:17
Serhiy Lebid (UKR) 2:08:32
Arne Gabius (GER) 2:08:33
Tewelde Estifanos (ERI) 2:09:16
Ghebrezgiabhier Kibrom (ERI) 2:09:36
Vitaliy Shafar (UKR) 2:09:58
Marcin Chabowski (POL) 2:10:07
Scott Overall (GBR) 2:10:55
Chris Thompson (GBR) 2:11:14
Yuki Sato (JPN) 2:12:12
Callum Hawkins (GBR) 2:12:17
Nordstad Moen (NOR) 2:12:54
Lee Merrien (GBR) 2:13:41
Derek Hawkins (GBR) 2:14:04
Shawn Forrest (AUS) 2:14:37
Kevin Seaward (IRL) 2:14:52
Phil Wicks (GBR) 2:15:37
Paul Pollock (IRL) 2:15:38
Ben Moreau (GBR) 2:15:52
Ian Kimpton (GBR) 2:15:55
Matthew Hynes (GBR) 2:16:00
John Beattie (GBR) 2:16:38
Andrew Davies (GBR) 2:16:55
Stephen Scullion (IRL) 2:34:33
Bedan Karoki (KEN) debut
Gervais Hakizimana (RWA) debut
Jonathan Hay (GBR) debut
Ryan McLeod (GBR) debut
Alejandro Fernandez Martin (ESP) debut