London expects thrilling class races as new series begins
Series XI of the Abbott World Marathon Majors kicks off at the Virgin Money London Marathon this Sunday, April 23, when many of the greatest marathon racers in history will begin a 12-month quest for points and prizes culminating at the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon in one year's time.
The new circuit starts just six days after Series X concluded at the Boston Marathon on Monday with four thrilling races and the two fastest wheelchair marathons ever seen. More thrills are in store in London as the series begins again with a brand new prize structure and an innovative charity programme.
For the first time since the series began in 2006, prizes will be awarded to the top three male and female runners and wheelchair racers on their respective leaderboards at the end of the 12-month cycle. Previously, only the individual champions received prize money. More information on the new structure and charity programme can be found here.
Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele will start as favorite to win maximum points in the men's race.
Already a triple Olympic champion and double world record holder on the track, Bekele became the world's second fastest marathon runner of all time when he won the 2016 BMW BERLIN MARATHON last September.
He missed the world record by just six seconds when he crossed the line in the German capital in two hours three minutes three seconds after a thrilling battle with former world record holder Wilson Kipsang. It was the fastest marathon in the world in 2016 and broke Haile Gebrselassie's Ethiopian record, sending a powerful message to the selectors who had left him out of Ethiopia's team for the Rio Olympic Games.
Now Bekele aims to strike another blow for his country as he seeks to become only the third Ethiopian man ever to win the coveted London Marathon title and the first since two-time winner Tsegaye Kebede in 2013.
Bekele made his London debut last April when he ran an impressive race to finish third behind the Kenyan duo of Eliud Kipchoge and Stanley Biwott despite not being fully fit. Now regarded as one of the true marathon elites, he will have Kipchoge's course record of 2:03:05 in his sights, and perhaps even Dennis Kimetto's world record of 2:02:57.
Bekele will face five opponents who have run marathons quicker than 2:06, while the field contains two marathon world champions, three of the top five finishers from last summer's Olympic Games, and the winners of the 2016 Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and New York events.
As ever, the main contenders come from east Africa with the Ethiopian contingent especially strong. Bekele's compatriots include Rio Olympic silver medallist and 2016 Tokyo Marathon champion Feyisa Lilesa, the 2016 Dubai and Hamburg Marathon champion Tesfaye Abera, and Tilahun Regassa, who is aiming to make the London podium after finishing fifth and sixth in the last two years.
Abel Kirui and Daniel Wanjiru will lead the Kenyan challenge.
The experienced Kirui, who won the world marathon title in 2011 and 2013, returns to London for the first time since 2012 when he was fifth just four months before winning Olympic silver in the same city.
After a number of years without a major victory, he was a surprise winner of the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October and will be looking for another strong performance as he seeks selection for Kenya's 2017 World Championship team.
Wanjiru will also be one to watch after he lowered his personal best by almost three minutes to win last October's Amsterdam Marathon in 2:05:21.
Kirui won't be the only world champion on show as Eritrea's young star Ghirmay Ghebreslassie returns to London after finishing fourth last April in a PB 2:07:46.
The 21-year-old became the youngest global marathon champion ever when he won the 2015 world title in Beijing at the age of 19. He enhanced his status as one of the world's best when he claimed the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon crown in November just three months after placing fourth at the Rio Games in August.