NAIROBI, January 19- Eliud Kipchoge is rolling up his sleeves and getting into shape to hold on to his London Marathon crown on April 24 after he was confirmed in yet another star-studded men’s field for the World Marathon Majors crown jewel.
Speaking to Capital Sport after the imposing line-up was rolled out by organisers on Tuesday, Kipchoge who is arguably the top male marathoner on the planet at the moment aspires to put together another resounding campaign with the icing at the 2016 Rio Olympics if given a chance to compete for Kenya.
The first stop is a title to defend against familiar foes stretching back to his decorated track days to his present day reputation as a fearsome marathoner.
Kipchoge; who added the Berlin crown to his expanding trophy cabinet in the ultimate distance race in the summer, takes on the man he deposed and two-time champion, Wilson Kipsang in what organisers hope will be a repeat of their epic clash that went almost all the way to the tape last year.
World record holder, Dennis Kimetto, who rounded up the podium, is also in for another stab at London glory but for Kipchoge, his archrival from his time as a 5000m runner, Ethiopia’s track record holder, Kenisa Bekele, adds spice to the proceedings.
“I’m happy to be back side by side with great runners. I’m putting in good training and facing a big field depends on how you have prepared. I’m training very well and I hope I will do more than I did last year,” the 2003 world champion in the 12 and a half-lap race said in recognition of the daunting task ahead on the same streets he embellished his reputation last year.
Kipchoge, 31, has stated his desire to chase the elusive Olympics gold medal in the summer that eluded his track career and believes London will give him the perfect work out to underline his credentials.
“When you start training, you prepare for a whole season. So, I’ve preparing for it but first, we run in London and if given a chance for the Olympics, then it will be working to get ready,” the runner who ran 2:04:42 for victory in the British capital last year, added.
His victory at Berlin in a world leading 2:04:00 was dominated by the flapping in-soles of his specially made Nike running shoes but the 2014 Chicago winner says the whole saga is behind him.
“The shoe was in 2015, last season and that is over. That is in the past now. This is a new year, a new season where I’m hoping to get better,” Kipchoge said with a laugh.
“It was fantastic to win the Virgin Money London Marathon last year against one of the greatest fields ever assembled in marathon running.
“This year I will come back to London to compete again with the world’s best athletes. 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,” he was quoted by organisers.
According to them; Kipchoge who beat two-time champion Kipsang by just five seconds in a thrilling sprint finish at the end of last year’s 35th race with record holder Kimetto left to fight for third place has all to do.
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 greats in 2016 when the quartet toe the London start line again in pursuit of one of world running’s most prestigious prizes. The promise of an Olympic berth could well be the incentive Biwott needs to finally top the London podium.
Kipchoge’s superb record of five wins and one second place from six marathon starts since 2013 will make him the marginal favourite from a stellar elite men’s field that contains the top five finishers from 2015, five men who have run the 26.2-mile distance in under 2 hours 5 minutes, and 16 who have finished quicker than 2:10.
Biwott, Kimetto and Kipsang are likely to be the champion’s main challengers, with the latter two looking to make amends after dropping out of the World Championships race in Beijing 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 after losing touch with his two compatriots on the run for home along London’s Victoria Embankment last year. 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 Beijing 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 here last year, Endeshaw Negesse, the 2015 Tokyo Marathon champion, plus last year’s Rotterdam champion Abera Kuma – all men who have run quicker than 2:06.
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-times European cross country champion, Serhiy Lebid, is the top European in the line-up. He finished 10th last year. German record holder Arne Gabius also earns a place following his barrier-breaking fourth place in Frankfurt last October, while Poland’s former steeplechaser Marcin Chabowski and Lebid compatriot Vitaliy Shafar could also be top 10 contenders.
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 Leeds City’s Derek Hawkins. Ian Kimpton and Matthew Hynes both lowered their PBs in 2015 to within touching distance of the Rio selection time while Phil Wicks, Ben Moreau and John Beattie could also be in contention.
-Additional material from organisers
London Marathon 2016 elite men and personal bests:
Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:04:00
Dennis Kimetto (KEN) 2:02:57
Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2:03:23
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