Kipchoge to take on Bekele and homeboy Mo Farah at London Marathon on April 22.
The three greatest distance runners of their generation will race the Virgin Money London Marathon after Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele confirmed he will join Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge on the start line for the IAAF Gold Label road race on April22. Mary Keitany will attempt to break Paula Radcliffe’s world record. Just as Radcliffe did when she set the world record at the 2003 London Marathon, Keitany will be running with male pacemakers in her bid to run inside the Briton’s iconic mark of 2:15.25. Our writer K Seroney, a London-based Kenyan author, had an exclusive interview with Hugh Brasher, the London Marathon race director early this week.
How would you describe briefly the Kenyan dominance of the London Marathon over the last two decades?
The Kenyans have proved to be the pre-eminent force in distance running for many years now. So, it should be no surprise that they have also dominated the Virgin Money London Marathon.
Incredibly, 12 of the last 14 winners of the men’s race have been Kenyan including the last four races while Kenyan women, although not quite as dominant as the men, have still won five of the last seven races.
Eliud Kipchoge and Mary Keitany are strong favourites for this year’s race. So, another Kenyan double could be coming up.
What’s unique in the London Marathon course that has 17 turns compared to may be Berlin that has 19 turns and is flat? Is there a possibility of a world record?
World records can and have been broken at the London Marathon. Paula Radcliffe still holds the ‘mixed gender’ women’s world record from 2003 (2:15:25) while Eliud Kipchoge came within eight seconds of breaking the world record in 2016. Khalid Khannouchi (US) set a world record in 2002, when he won in 2:05:38.
London is a fast course but, as is the case with any marathon, a number of factors need to be right on the day including the health and fitness of the athletes, the weather on the day and many other variables.
These factors will again come into play this year as Mary Keitany sets out to attack Paula Radcliffe’s mixed world record with male pacemakers. We have an incredible men’s field too so there’s every chance a very fast time will be needed to win.
Eliud Kipchoge came close to breaking the London Marathon in 2016. Apart from experiencing an ideal marathon weather on the competition day, what other incentives have the Virgin London Marathon organisers put in place to ensure he breaks the 2:02.57 all-time mark?
The 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon will have arguably the strongest men’s marathon field of all time. In addition to Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Sir Mo Farah and last year’s winner Daniel Wanjiru, there is a whole host of runners capable of running under sub two hours and five minutes, so the strength of the competition is likely to push Kipchoge and the others towards a very fast time.
Tell us about the quality of the pace setters... are you signing up the best half marathon stars? Or sub 2:05 marathoners? Who are they and why?
As is the case every year, the pacemakers will be top-class athletes in their own right who will be tasked with running to a pace agreed by the athletes in the days leading up to the race.
In women, Mary Keitany set an all-women world record in 2017 in London. Do you foresee Keitany or any other athlete coming close to Paula Radcliffe’s women’s mixed marathon world record? How soon?
I do think it is realistic for Mary to break Paula’s record at the Virgin Money London Marathon this year. After her run last year when she ran 2:17:01 in a women’s only race and went through halfway in almost 2:13 pace, it was clear that had she had a bit of help early on she could have run a lot faster. So, it was very clear to us that in the right conditions, if she is in shape and with the male pacemakers which we have this year, she will have a very realistic chance of beating Paula’s great mark.
What remains the greatest challenge in the Virgin London Marathon?
The fields that we assemble at the Virgin Money London Marathon are often described as stronger than Olympic Games and World Championship marathons, so the greatest challenge is winning the race. It is, without doubt, the toughest marathon to win in the world. As organisers, our challenge is to improve the event every year and we have a fantastic team that continually comes up with new ideas for how we can do this. We are proud to call London the world’s greatest marathon.