The 2016 World Marathon Majors series kicked off last Monday, with the Boston Marathon, which was highlighted by the first Ethiopian sweep in the race’s 120-year history. The next event on the calendar is Sunday’s London Marathon, which features the East Africans that define fast.
Last year’s race was won by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge in 2:04:42, which is just shy of Wilson Kipsang’s 2:04:29 course record set the previous year. After a strong battle for the first 40 kilometers, Kipsang faded to second behind Kipchoge. World record holder Dennis Kimetto took third as the billed “clash of the titans” between him and Kipsang lived up to the hype for the first 30 kilometers of the race.
The elite field assembled for 2016 features the top talent from last year and adds several world-class performers, with five men whose have run under 2:05.
The London Marathon will award $55,000 each to the female and male champion.
The race will be broadcast live at 3:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Here’s a look at whom to watch on Sunday:
Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya (Personal best: 2:04:00, Berlin 2015)
Kipchoge was hands-down the best marathoner of 2015. He upset two former world record holders to win London and then ran a personal best and the fastest time of the year with his 2:04:00 victory at the Berlin Marathon in September. That time, run with the insoles of his shoes falling out, ranks as the sixth fastest of all-time.
Athletics Kenya selects the country’s Olympic team subjectively, and with his résumé the 31-year-old Kipchoge has a strong chance to make a trip to the Games. He owns a world championship gold medal and Olympic silver and bronze medals over 5,000 meters on the track. After 10 years of running in circles, Kipchoge has transitioned to the roads seamlessly under the guidance of coach Patrick Sang.
Wilson Kipsang, Kenya (Personal best: 2:03:23, Berlin 2013)
Last year was a year to forget for Kipsang. He lost to Kipchoge in London, dropped out of the world championship marathon and then finished fourth at the New York City Marathon in 2:12:45. The good news is that the 2:04:47 he ran for second in London suggests he’s far from “finished.” At 34, Kipsang remains one of the greatest marathoners of all-time. In 2012, he won the London Marathon in 2:04:44 before taking bronze at the Olympics in London. Any finish within the top five may still be enough to put him on a second Olympic team.
World record holder regaining form
Dennis Kimetto, Kenya (Personal best: 2:02:57, Berlin 2014)
Dennis Kimetto told reporters at the press conference that he is much closer to his fitness level of 2014, when he set the world record of 2:02:57 in Berlin. Kimetto, 32, has leaned more towards the one-hit wonder side than being a dominant force in the marathon since his record-setting run. Last year, he finished third at London, behind Kipchoge and Kipsang. He dropped out of the marathon at the world championships and also failed to finish last December’s Fukuoka Marathon in Japan.
Hello, it’s me
Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia (Personal best: 2:05:04, Paris 2014)
The world record holder at 5,000 and 10,000 meters returns for the fourth marathon of his career. He debuted with a strong 2:05:04 at the 2014 Paris Marathon before running 2:05:51 for fourth in Chicago that fall. He took a short break before attempting the lucrative Dubai Marathon, which offers $100,000 to its winners, and dropping out mid-race with an injury. Renowned coach Renato Canova believes that Bekele, 33, has the best mechanics for a marathon and a strong showing on Sunday would be a good start to backing that claim. Bekele struggled with injuries in late 2015 but a win or podium finish on Sunday would benefit his case for a spot on the Ethiopian Olympic squad because any Summer Games is more fun to watch with a legendary figure.
The other contenders
Stanley Biwott, Kenya (Personal best: 2:04:55, London 2014)
The 30-year-old Biwott has been on the world marathon majors scene for some time but finally nabbed his first victory at last November’s New York City Marathon in 2:10:34. In 2014, he ran his personal best of 2:04:55 to finish second in London behind Kipsang. In New York, he enacted his revenge and prevented Kipsang from winning his second consecutive New York City title while also out-kicking world half marathon champion and 10,000-meter world silver medalist Geoffrey Kamworor in the closing stages of the race. Sunday marks Biwott’s fourth London Marathon and he is coming off a 1:01:40 half-marathon in Dubai, where he finished second, while Kipsang took 11th in 1:02:16.
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, Eritrea (Personal best: 2:07:47, Hamburg 2015)
At age 19 last year, Ghebreslassie conquered the Beijing heat to win gold the world championships. If he can stay on the shoulder of the East African giants, he can definitely lower his personal best of 2:07:47, which he set at last spring’s Hamburg Marathon. A win would be another major upset.
Don't forget the Ethiopians
Ethiopia’s athletics federation will also have eyes on Tilahun Regassa and Abera Kuma, who run under 2:06 in their career. One Olympic team spot may be on the line following 21-year-old Lemi Berhanu Hayle’s win in Boston in 2:12:45 and two-time Boston champion Lelisa Desisa’s second-place finish.
Australia's Craig Mottram will make his 26.2 debut in an attempt to hit the Olympic qualifying standard for his fifth Olympic team. Mottrom beat out Kipchoge for the bronze medal in the 5,000 meters at the 2005 world championships by less than a second.
Great Britain's strongest hope for a top 10 finish will be between Scott Overall and Chris Thompson, who own 2:10:55 and 2:11:19 personal bests respectively.