Men's Marathon: LEGESE LOCKS ON TO KIPCHOGE'S RECORD
Ethiopia's Birhanu Legese will take aim at Eliud Kipchoge's course record in Sunday's Virgin Money London Marathon.
The 27-year-old is making his London bow at the 2021 race and will have to topple reigning champion Shura Kitata to take the crown.
But the man from the NN Running Team is the third fastest athlete in history over 26.2 miles and declared on Wednesday that he intends to improve on his 2:02:48 personal best by beating the Kenyan's mark of 2:02:37, set in 2019.
"If the conditions are good on Sunday, that's my target," said the two-time Tokyo champion.
A win for either Kitata or Legese would put them in a strong position to win Series XIII of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the series was extended to conclude at the 2021 TCS New York City Marathon. Kitata currently sits in second place on 26 points, with Lawrence Cherono leading the way on 29.
Legese is just a point further back thanks to his 2020 Tokyo win. His fellow Ethiopian sighted a hamstring injury that hampered his bid for the Olympic title in the summer, and hinted it may still present issues for him on Sunday when the pace ramps up.
"I've prepared well and I feel confident about being competitive on Sunday," he said. "But the hamstring pain is not really easy and, when it's very fast speed, there might be some problems.
Following a scorching first half of 60:48 on Sunday's BMW BERLIN MARATHON, both men know a more reserved pace will be required in London before the fireworks can begin.
"There were not enough competitive athletes to sustain that pace," said Legese, who set his PB in the 2019 edition of Berlin when Kenenisa Bekele fell just two seconds short of Kipchoge's 2:01:39 world record. "On Sunday, with the crowds cheering us, it could help to break the course record."
There will, of course, be a Kenyan challenge to contend with on Sunday. Kitata became the first man to topple Eliud Kipchoge in last year's edition of the race.
Without the double Olympic champion in town this time, it may fall to Evans Chebet to fly the flag. The 33-year-old won the 2020 Valencia Marathon in a course record of 2:03:00 and is seeking to draw inspiration from his compatriot:
"If Eliud is watching on Sunday, it will give me more motivation to run faster," he said.
"The rivalry is there. I know the Ethiopians are used to staying behind a bit and then kicking in the last 200 or 300 metres. So it's going to be a challenging race on Sunday and I'm going to need a lot of strength at the end to win."
Women's Marathon: KENYAN DUEL LINED UP FOR LONDON
There's a tantalizing, long-awaited head-to-head brewing in Sunday's elite women's race at the Virgin Money London Marathon.
The two headline Kenyans in the field, Brigid Kosgei and Joyciline Jepkosgei, have not met on the AbbottWMM circuit before.
They collide this weekend in what promises to be an intriguing battle, and one that could determine the destination of the women's open division AbbottWMM Series XIII silverware.
Kosgei, who leads the way with a maximum 50 points, barely needs an introduction. She shattered the world record in Chicago in 2019 and has won the last two London editions at a canter.
If you can call an Olympic silver medal a blemish, her second place in Sapporo in the summer is the only misstep since she burst onto the scene with victory in the Windy City in 2018.
For Jepkosgei, making her debut in London this weekend, New York City in 2019 provided her with the first opportunity to show her wares at Majors level.
She blew the field away, including the great Mary Keitany who has just announced her retirement.
Keitany walks away still with the women's only record for London, after she set 2:17:01 in 2017.
Kosgei's incredible 2:14 in Chicago in 2019 makes her favorite, but after Jepkosgei's impressive performance on the gradients of the Big Apple in 2019, the flatter surface in London may well see her provide a stiff challenge to the world's fastest woman over 26.2 miles.
She is in form, having taken down the Berlin half marathon recently, and is setting her sights on dipping beneath 2:20 on Sunday: ""Six weeks ago I ran in Berlin to test myself. It was part of my preparation for London.
"This half marathon was the best for me and my training has gone well over the last few weeks. I am ready to run sub-2:20 and I will try my best to do it," she said.
Kosgei said she will be relieved to be back on the familiar London course after last year's lapped format.
"I didn't like the loops last year. We went round and round and round, and my head was turning and turning by the end. This time we are going straight and I really appreciate that.
"I won't have the course record in mind, as I recently came from running the Olympics only last month, so my preparation is not good enough to do it."
Jepkosgei may well be the fresher of the pair without the toil of Olympic preparation and competition in her legs. If she beats her countrywoman to first place, she will equal Kosgei's total on the leaderboard but hold the edge over her in the pair's head-to-head record.
Kosgei's London IQ after her experience here will be key.
"London is better for me than Tokyo," said Kosgei. "I don't run so well in hot conditions but I tried my best there. Now I am back in London I hope to run at my best again."
Her best may well be required.