Has London Marathon assembled the best elite race ever?

sifan hassan
London Marathon: the best field ever assembled?Getty Images

She won an unprecedented three medals – two gold, one bronze – at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and is the only athlete in Olympic history to medal in both middle and long-distance events. But Dutch star Sifan Hassan still has a big new challenge ahead – announcing today that she will debut over 26.2 miles at the London Marathon, in one of the best fields ever assembled.

‘I am considering my plans for next year’s Paris Olympic Games with both the track and marathon options for me,’ explained Hassan. ‘However, before I can make a final decision on which direction to go, I need to test myself over the marathon distance and I believe the best place for me to do that is in London with the best female marathon athletes around me. It will be a step into the unknown in many ways for me but I’m looking forward to it.’

While Hassan’s speed – she’s broken world records and still holds five European records, from 1500m to half marathon – is undeniable, she certainly faces a tough test if she is to add a new title to her resume. The women’s field also contains defending champion, Ethiopian star Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who took Hassan’s world record in the 10k road race, and has the second fastest half marathon time ever.

The very fastest female marathoner ever, Brigid Kosgei, is also competing, along with Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, the 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana and the reigning Berlin Marathon champion Tigist Assefa, the fifth-fastest women’s marathoner in history.

Throw in Eilish McColgan’s marathon debut and a stellar domestic field, including Charlotte Purdue and Jess Piasecki, and it promises to be a must-watch, threatening national records galore. Two of the fastest American women ever, marathon record holder Emily Sisson and former holder Keira D’Amato both compete, as does Australian legend and marathon record holder Sinead Diver.

If that list of record holders hasn’t exhausted you, then consider the men’s race, which is equally stellar. The field contains four of the top five fastest men in history – missing only Eliud Kipchoge to complete the set. In fact, it’s something of an Avengers Assemble of marathoning: the field includes Kenenisa Bekele (the second fastest man ever with 2:01:41), Kelvin Kiptum who ran the fastest debut in marathon history in Valencia last year (2:01:53). Birhanu Legese (2:02:48) and Mosinet Geremew (2:02:55) – and that’s before the list even gets to defending champion Kipruto and world champion Tola.

He might not be quite up at the top of the all-time lists, but the field also contains a true icon of marathon running. Yuki Kawauchi. Astonishingly, though he’s run 113 marathons and won 41 of them, he has never run London Marathon before – though he’s certainly flown through the capital’s streets as he came 9th in the World Championships in London 2017. His biggest career victory came in 2018 in Boston, the year the race was deluged by freezing rain and battered by gale-force winds. So if the weather in London is unfavourable to the very fastest in the pack, it certainly won’t be a problem for the Japanese star.

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