The 2014 London Marathon could turn out to be the greatest marathon in history. With three runners coming into the event sporting personal bests in the 2:03s, including world record holder Wilson Kipsang, the race could be the fastest ever. But London will be a compelling viewing experience not only because the world record may fall. There are so many exciting story lines that will play out on Sunday. Can Mo Farah deliver on all the hype in his 42.2K debut? Can Geoffrey Mutai outrun Wilson Kipsang in their head-to-head match-up? Or is it Emmanuel Mutai’s turn to finally win a big race in a world record time, making it three potential all-time greats running in their prime? Will the race shatter apart into a tactic affair as it did last year, or will celebrity pacer Haile Gebrselassie get the lead pack through in blistering time? And can Canada’s Reid Coolsaet finally re-write our record books and break the 39-year-old national record in London?
Here’s an in depth look at the top contenders in the men’s field:
Marathon PB: 2:03:02
Major wins: 2011 Boston, 2012 Berlin, 2011, 2013 New York City
In what could be the greatest distance race in history, Geoffrey Mutai comes in at the height of his powers as a distance runner. He dominated the New York City Marathon last November and by all accounts is healthy and very fit. His 2:03:02 at the 2011 Boston Marathon still stands as the fastest time in history, although it does not count as an official world record because of the downhill, point-to-point nature of the Boston course. Nevertheless, many believe that he is already among the greatest marathoners in history. Winning this stacked London Marathon could cement his reputation as the greatest of all-time.
2:03:23 PB (world record)
Major wins: 2012 London, 2013 Berlin
Last fall, Wilson Kipsang put on a show in Berlin, shattering the world record in 2:03:23. Like Geoffrey Mutai, we may be seeing Kipsang at his peak in London. Both he and Mutai believe that the world record can be lowered on Sunday and have requested that pacers go out in just over 2:03 pace. Kipsang has won in London before when he ran 2:04:44 in 2012, just seconds off the course record. He knows how to win from the front, so if the pacers do their job, Kipsang could use his knowledge of the course to his advantage for the win.
Major wins: 2011 London
Out of all the runners in the field, Emmanuel Mutai has the most to prove. Although he’s the course record holder from his lone major win in 2011 (2:04:40), “the other Mutai” is not considered the favourite to win on Sunday. He’s also become known as perhaps the best runner-up in marathon history, having placed second in an impressive five marathon majors (2010 and 2012 in London, 2010 and 2011 in NYC and Chicago in 2013). Perhaps lost in all of this is Mutai’s incredible consistency. Last fall in Chicago, he proved that he can run in the 2:03’s and will no doubt be a part of that lead group that goes after the world record on Sunday.
Major wins: Olympic bronze medal (2008), 2010 and 2013 London, 2012 Chicago
The diminutive Ethiopian has been in the most battles in this impressive men’s field. He’s a tenacious runner that can also hang with the fastest in the world. Although he doesn’t have the time trialing ability of Mutai or Kipsang, Kebede will probably go out with the lead pack on Sunday. What he has proven over the years is that he’s capable of surviving a tough race with many changes in pace, so if there is some gamesmanship in London, that could work to Kebede’s advantage. If he’s in the mix in the last 10K of the race, he’s got an extraordinary ability to close. He’s also shown that he’s capable of coming back from the dead, so never count him out. If the leaders falter he will capitalize on it.
Major wins: two-time Olympic and world championship gold medallist
Farah’s debut has managed to overshadow the Mutai/Kispang duel, which is a testament to how important this story line is for the distance running world. Mo Farah is a household name entering the marathon at a time when the running world desperately needs a global star. Like Gebrselassie, Farah aspires to make a smooth transition from being a dominant track runner to an equally dominant marathoner. That transition has not always been a smooth one for trackies, however, and running his debut in front of a home crowd expecting big things is a risky move for the Briton. He’s made a wise decision not to go out with the lead group, and will opt to pace the first half in a more “conservative” pace with the chase group, which aims to run about 2:04-2:05 pace. Kenenisa Bekele made the transition from world-beating track runner to marathoner in Paris and Farah will no doubt have his time of 2:05:02 on his mind at the start of the London Marathon.
Major wins: 2012 Olympic champion, 2013 World champion
You can never count out Stephen Kiprotich. Although he does not have the top-end speed of the other contenders in London, Kiprotich must be respected, as he is the reigning Olympic and World champion at the distance. He surely won’t go out with the lead group, but will loom large in the chase pack. Along with Kebede, Kiprotich is one of best pure racers in the field. He’ll hope that the world record pace the lead group runs in the first half will prove to be too much. If that is the case and he is able to find his way into the mix in the second half, he will be a huge threat.
Other names to watch out for are Ehtiopians Ayele Abshero, Feyisa Lilesa and Ibrahim Jeilan. Abshero and Lilesa have run in the 2:04 range in the past and will probably be in that lead group. Like Farah, Jeilan is a former track champion making the big jump up to the marathon for the first time in London. At the world championships in 2011 and 2013 he and Farah duelled it out in the 10,000m final. They have a fantastic rivalry and even if neither win on Sunday, there will no doubt be a race within the race between these two for bragging rights as to who made the best transition to the marathon.
Canada’s third fastest all-time marathoner is hoping to finally take down Jerome Drayton’s 39-year-old national record of 2:10:09. London might be the best opportunity a Canadian runner has had in years to break the 2:10 barrier. Coolsaet will be with a good group of British and American runners going out with a pacer (American Fernando Cabada) in sub-2:10 pace. If the group works well together and keeps the pace even, Coolsaet has a very good chance at becoming the greatest Canadian distance runner of all-time. The 34-year-old has come close on a few occasions now, including a strong run in Fukuoka, Japan last December. London’s conditions, course and pace group are shaping up to be absolutely perfect. Sunday could be a historic day for Canadian running.