Virgin Money London Marathon (VMLM) elite race co-ordinator, Dave Bedford, has maintained the astonishingly high standard of the elite field for the 37th edition of the famous footrace on Sunday, 23 April. The men's entry is headed by Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele (PB 2:03:03) and the fastest woman on paper is Mary Keitany (Kenya, 2:18:37).
Bekele, current world record holder for 5000m (12:37.34) and 10,000m (26:17.53), is relatively inexperienced at the marathon distance but he made a sensational debut to win Paris Marathon in 2014 (2:05:04) and was third in London in 2016 (2:06:36) after recovering from an achilles injury. In September last year he set his best, and second fastest in history, in Berlin and in January he was on world record schedule in Dubai before being forced to retire due to a fall at the start.
The mercurial Bekele could threaten the world record, held since 2014 by Kenya's Dennis Kimetto (2:02:57), but he might not even be the first Ethiopian to cross the finish line in The Mall as the field includes his countrymen Tesfaye Abera (2:04:24) and Feyisa Lilesa (2:04:52)
“London is the greatest marathon in the world and I would love to win there,” said Bekele. “The field is always the best and victory means so much. After finishing third last year, I know what I need to do to win.”
Eliud Kipchoge's course record (2:03:05) from last year might be on borrowed time but the women's best and current world record (2:15:25) by Paula Radcliffe in 2003 in a mixed race still looks pretty secure after 14 years. However, Radcliffe's women's only race world record (2:17:18) set in Chicago in 2002 could be a more realistic target.
Previous winner and second fastest in history, Mary Keitany (Kenya), is top female on paper with 2:18:37 but three other women boast sub 2:20 times: Aselefech Mergia (Ethiopia, 2:19:31), Florence Kiplagat (Kenya, 2:19:44) and Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia, 2:19:52), in what looks to be the closest elite women's race for years.
A number of Britain’s best will be seeking places on the London 2017 World Championships team. London 2012 Olympian Scott Overall (2:10:55); former European 10,000m silver medallist Chris Thompson (2:11:19) and Rio 2016 Olympian Tsegai Tewelde (2:12:23) are the leading Brits. Five-time Olympian Jo Pavey (2:28:24), Alyson Dixon (2:29:30) and Charlotte Purdue (2:30:04) head the domestic women's field.