London – An elite field including world record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya and double Olympic champion Mo Farah on his debut over the distance will be lining up for a eagerly anticipated London marathon on Sunday.
World and Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich, the defending London champion Tsegaye Kebede and the London course record holder, Emmanuel Mutai, are also among the field while Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie is set to pace the leaders to 30 kilometres at world-record schedule.
Much of the focus will be on 31-year-old Farah who wants to become the first British man to win in London since Eamonn Martin in 1993, while in the women's race there is a similar scenario with track great Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia making her marathon debut.
Farah says he is targeting Steve Jones' 1985 national record of 2 hours 7 minutes 13 seconds, but also has an eye on victory in what promises to be a record home crowd around the 42.195km course.
Some of his rivals believe it may be a hard task for Farah in such a high-profile race and at his first attempt.
“For me I really don't think that he's a big challenge, but because he's doing his debut and I know he's someone who is trying to run very well I'm not going to take it lightly,” Kipsang told dpa while training in Kenya.
“I know he can perform. He can run good, but you cannot really say much because this is his first marathon, so he has to finish it first.”
Kenyan compatriot Mutai, the 2011 London winner, said:
“Sometimes it's good to start with a small race - not so fast or with such a strong field.
“You win then and then you have an idea of how the marathon is when you come to a big race like this.
“If he doesn't perform here, that might affect him psychologically - and whatever he has achieved on that day will not be good because maybe he was expecting a lot, and that can be demoralising.”
The race also comes less than a month after Farah collapsed at the end of a half-marathon in New York after finishing second, however he insists he has recovered.
The gauntlet has been thrown down to Farah by Kenenisa Bekele, another long-distance Olympic champion who last weekend in Paris ran 2:05:04 for the sixth-fastest debut marathon of all time.
The 31-year-old Ethiopian, a three-time Olympic champion who holds the 5,000m and 10,000m world records, believes Farah can also be a marathon winner.
“I think my result will give him confidence,” he said. “For people who run very fast on the track and achieve good results, it can be the same in the marathon. It will give him encouragement. “He's a competitor as well and, because we are entering the marathon at the same time, maybe he will think, 'Come on. Now I will do it'.”
Farah is reportedly planning not to stick with the race leaders but adopt a slightly slower pace, banking on having the reserves for a fast finish. His US coach, Alberto Salazar, says he will run in a second group that will be paced to reach the halfway point 30
seconds behind the lead group.
Race organisers have hired Ethiopia's former world record-holder and long-distance great Gebrselassie to perform the main pacemaking duties. He is under instruction to take the lead group of athletes through the halfway point at 61 min 45 sec, which would put them within striking distance of Kipsang's world record of 2:03:23 set in Berlin last September.
“Sunday will be very special because of who's in the field,” the 40-year-old Gebrselassie said.
“This is the best marathon ever,” he said. “I've never seen such big names in one race. Both the men's and women's are like that. I'm happy just to be part of it. At least I can be there at the start of the race.”
A world record is hardly thought likely in London, which is not as fast as a course such as Berlin's, but there seems to be little doubt of a quick if tactical race. Mutai's 2011 course record of 2:04:40 is certainly a target.
“Everyone knows London is always fast for the first 10km, but it's later in the race that counts,” Gebrselassie said. “In the marathon you have to run evenly. You can't change gears all the time like you can in a shorter track race.”
Unbeaten on the track at 10,000m, five-time Olympic champion Dibaba says she is confident in making the step up on Sunday, but the 28-year-old will not be the the favourite in an equally top-class women's field.
Dibaba has to measure herself against the likes of compatriot Tiki Gelana, who won the 2012 Olympic marathon gold on London's streets, defending London champion Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya, and the Kenyans Edna Kiplagat, the current world champion, and Florence Kiplagat, the half-marathon world record holder and a two-time winner in Berlin, who are among a long list of elite runners.– Sapa-dpa