Virgin Money London Marathon
JEPTOO RETURNS TO DEFEND HER TITLE AT 2014 LONDON MARATHON
The Olympic champion, the world champion and one of the greatest distance runners of all time will be among Priscah Jeptoo's opponents when she defends her women's title at the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 13 April.
Jeptoo produced the world's second fastest time of 2013 to win the London Marathon last April and the Kenyan will need to be equally impressive this year as she steps up to defend her crown against an elite field that includes three athletes who have run quicker than two hours 20 minutes and eight who have finished in under 2:25, plus the three-times Olympic track champion and multi-world record breaker Tirunesh Dibaba, who is making her marathon debut.
Jeptoo will return to London full of confidence after enjoying a great year in 2013. The Olympic silver medallist also won the Great North Run half marathon in September and added the New York Marathon title in November, a victory which made her half a million dollars richer as she clinched the World Marathon Majors prize.
Jeptoo's main threat could again come from Tiki Gelana, the Ethiopian who beat her to the Olympic title in pouring rain at London 2012 but saw her London Marathon chances disappear last year when she unfortunately clashed in a racing incident with Josh Cassidy, one of the world's top wheelchair racers.
Gelana eventually finished 16th and a few months later dropped out of the World Championships marathon in Moscow. As the fastest woman in the field, the Ethiopian record holder will feel she has a point to prove on her return to the British capital.
Jeptoo will also face stiff competition from Edna Kiplagat, the Kenyan who retained her world title in Moscow last August and has been runner-up in London for the last two years. Kiplagat will believe she is due a win here, as will her namesake and compatriot, Florence Kiplagat, who won the Berlin Marathon for a second time last September. She was fourth here in 2012 and sixth last year.
No doubt the favourites will all keep a wary eye on Tirunesh Dibaba, however, as the Ethiopian steps up to the marathon after a glittering career on the track. Dibaba won the world 10,000m title for the third time in Moscow, adding another gold medal to a collection that also includes two world 5000m crowns and three Olympic titles, plus numerous world records and cross country honours.
Dibaba was due to make her debut last year but withdrew from the field with a shin injury just a month before the race. She made a successful return to the roads last September after the Moscow World Championships, breaking the Ethiopian 10km record in Tilburg and finishing third behind Jeptoo and Meseret Defar at the Great North Run.
Two other Ethiopians will also be worth watching. Aberu Kebede has twice won the Berlin Marathon and last year added victories in the Tokyo and Shanghai Marathons. Her record in London is less successful, however – she was ninth in 2011 and sixth two years ago.
Feysa Tadesse also comes with strong credentials. Having won the Shanghai Marathon in 2012, she clinched the Paris Marathon last April with a personal best just outside 2:21.
Ukrainian record holder Tetyana Hamera-Shmyrko leads the European challenge. She won the Osaka Marathon in impressive style last January and was fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Portuguese pair Jéssica Augusto and Ana Dulce Félix could also make an impact if they're at their best. Augusto has twice finished eighth in London and was seventh at the Olympics while Félix has a top-four finish in New York to her name.
Kim Smith returns to the London Marathon four years after she broke the New Zealand record to finish seventh here in 2010. She was sixth in New York last November, her third top 10 finish in the 'Big Apple'.
Domestic interest rests with Amy Whitehead and Emma Stepto who look set to battle with marathon debutante Gemma Steel for the honour of being first Briton home.
London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher said: "We are delighted to welcome back Priscah Jeptoo. Our champion was a deserved winner of the World Marathon Majors title and has shown with her performances over the last two years that she will be extremely difficult to beat.
"We are also pleased to see the world and Olympic champions on our start line again. Both Edna and Tiki had reason to feel frustrated last year – Edna because she just missed out for a second year in succession, and Tiki because of her unfortunate accident. I am sure they will both be determined to make their returns to London successful.
"All three will have to be at their very best to win the title in 2014 as our elite athlete coordinator David Bedford has again put together a field to match any in the world. With so many proven performers, and Tirunesh Dibaba making her debut, we have quite a race in prospect."
2014 Elite Women's Field and Personal Bests:
Tiki Gelana (ETH), 2:18:58, 2012 Olympic marathon champion
Florence Kiplagat (KEN), 2:19:44, 2013 Berlin Marathon champion
Edna Kiplagat (KEN), 2:19:50, 2011 & 2013 World marathon champion
Priscah Jeptoo (KEN), 2:20:14, 2013 London Marathon champion
Aberu Kebede (ETH), 2:20:30, 2013 Tokyo Marathon champion
Feysa Tadesse (ETH), 2:21:06, 2013 Paris Marathon champion
Tetyana Hamera-Shmyrko (UKR), 2:23:58, 2013 Osaka Marathon champion
Jéssica Augusto (POR), 2:24:33
Kim Smith (NZL), 2:25:21
Ana Dulce Félix (POR), 2:25:40
Nadia Ejjafini (ITA), 2:26:15
Diane Nukuri-Johnson (BDI), 2:29:54
Amy Whitehead (GBR), 2:33:44
Emma Stepto (GBR), 2:35:05
Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH), Debut
Gemma Steel (GBR), Debut
Lyudmila Konavalenko (UKR), Debut