NAIROBI, Kenya, April 16- The Kenyan charge is out in force at Sunday’s London Marathon where the assembled elite field will be out to depose defending champions, Ethiopian Tsegay Kebede and Russian Liliya Shobukhova in the men and women races.
Kebede is bidding to be the first runner since Kenya’s Martin Lel to hold on to the men’s title while Shobukhova faces a determined African onslaught as she seeks to emulate Germany’s Irina Mikitenko who bagged victory successive victories in 2008 and 2009.
With the withdrawal of his main rival in the shape of Olympics champion and London course record holder, Samuel Wanjiru for this year’s edition, Kebede still has a slew of potent Kenyans to contend with on Sunday.
Patrick Makau Musyoki, who failed to finish last year, comes in as the fastest in the field with his 2:04:54 world leading effort raced at Rotterdam last year. Coupled with another fast victory in Berlin last September, Makau, the fourth fastest marathoner in history, has evolved to the biggest threat to Kebede’s title defence.
Upon withdrawal of Wanjiru, London’s organisers announced the addition of thrice winner Lel who took victories in 2005, 2007 and 2008 to the field. Lel who has just recovered from serious injury that has dogged his career in the past two seasons will be looking to re-establish his authority at a course he has mastered.
Also in contention is the nearly man of marathon running, Emmanuel Mutai, who has won successive silvers at World Championships, London and New York marathons.
“I know my time is on the way and London could be my moment,” the athlete said before departing for London. Since winning the world title in Berlin, Abel Kirui, has not hit scaled the heights and he returns to London where he was fifth (2:08:04) last year.
He came home ninth at November’s New York Marathon.
“I made tactical mistakes in London and New York due to over training. This time, I measured my programme and I believe I’m back to my best,” Kirui stated.
Morocco’s ever green podium machine, Jaouad Gharib (2:05:27, PB), Ethiopia’s Bazu Worku (2:05:25, PB) who finished third in Berlin last year and Eritrea’s Yonas Kifle complete the African elite contingent.
Moroccan born American runner, Khalid Khannouchi, is the last London male winner from outside Africa. Khannouchi won the 2002 edition.
In the women’s race, world half marathon record holder, Kenya’s Mary Keitany, who finished third in New York on her full marathon debut, has been tagged as the main contender for Shobukhova’s title.
Keitany warmed up for London by smashing Kenyan born Dutch runner, Lornah Kiplagat’s record in February when she became the first woman to complete a half marathon course in under 66minutes with her 1:05:50.
Edna Kiplagat, who topped Keitany at the Big Apple, is also seeking to extend her winning run in the World Marathon Majors event and the 31-year-old comes to London having taken a complete rest after her New York victory.
Ethiopia’s forceful representation is fronted by Dubai Marathon champion and Worlds bronze winner, Aselefech Mergia, 2007 Milan and Paris Marathon winner Askale Tafa Bezunesh Bekele and Aberu Kebede as the country seeks to produce their first female London winner.
Recovered Kiplagat is also in the race where world record holder and home favourite, Paula Radcliffe returns after a maternal break. Shobukhova, 33, won last year’s $500,000 World Marathon Majors women’s title last year after adding the Chicago crown to her London diadem.