FANTASTIC FOUR LINE UP AT 2015 VIRGIN MONEY LONDON MARATHON
Edna Kiplagat will face two former champions and the fastest half marathon runner in history when she defends her Virgin Money London Marathon women's title on Sunday 26 April, in a clash that organisers are calling the battle of the Fantastic Four.
The double world champion sprinted to victory on The Mall last year, beating half marathon world record holder Florence Kiplagat by just three seconds, in the closest women's race for 17 years. The two Kiplagats will meet again in April when they face the 2013 champion, Priscah Jeptoo, and Mary Keitany, who topped the London Marathon podium in 2011 and 2012.
The women's elite field announced today contains seven runners who have completed the 26.2-mile distance in less than two hours 22 minutes, and no fewer than 10 who have run quicker than 2:25. But it's the Fantastic Four who are expected to battle it out over the closing stages just as they did in 2012 when Keitany smashed the Kenyan record.
"Winning my first London Marathon title on my fourth attempt last year was a special moment for me," said Edna Kiplagat, the 35-year-old defending champion, who was third on her London debut in 2011 and twice a runner-up before her 2014 triumph.
"Now I have tasted success in London, I am determined to win again. But I know it will be tougher than ever in 2015. Florence will be hungry to win after getting so close last year, and both Priscah and Mary will be doing their best to regain the number one spot.
"We have all had some great races in London in the past and I am sure it will be even better this year."
Keitany's return to the London Marathon will be keenly anticipated by marathon fans after she won her second title in compelling style three years ago in 2:18:37, a time only world record holder Paula Radcliffe has ever beaten on the London course.
Keitany made a spectacular return to marathon racing last year when she won the New York City Marathon in November after taking a year out in 2013 to have her second child. Undefeated over the London course, she is the quickest in this year's line-up by more than a minute and is aiming to become only the fourth woman to win the London Marathon three times.
"I am thrilled to be returning to the London Marathon this year," said Keitany, who turns 33 on Sunday (18 January). "I have had great success in London before and will be training hard to win my third title."
Both Edna and Florence Kiplagat have also dipped under 2:20 in the past, while Jeptoo set her personal best of 2:20:14 when she was third in London three years ago. After failing to finish last year, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist will be keen to make amends this time.
The Kenyan contingent is further strengthened by New York City Marathon runner-up Jemima Sumgong, while Feyse Tadese and Tigist Tufa provide the Ethiopian threat. Tadese was fourth last year and second in September's Berlin Marathon, while Tufa won marathons in Ottawa and Shanghai in 2014. All three have the pedigree to push for top three places.
The east Africans won't have it all their own way though. The 2015 field contains a number of strong European runners led by three women who have all gone sub-2:25 – Russia's 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Tatyana Arkhipova; Ukraine's Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko, the 2014 Osaka champion who was seventh in London last year, and last year's European champion, Christelle Daunay of France.
The strong field also contains a pair of Portuguese contenders in Ana Dulce Félix, who was eighth last year, and Sara Moreira, who was third on her marathon debut in New York last November. And Spain's Alessandra Aguilar could also target a top 10 spot – she has finished fifth at World and European Championships in recent years.
British interest will be high as world record holder and three-time London champion Paula Radcliffe says farewell to marathon running. The British legend will announce her race plans on 30 January. Other British runners are Sonia Samuels, a top 20 finisher at the Moscow 2013 World Championships, elite late-comer Emma Stepto, who was 14th last year at the age of 44, and Rebecca Robinson, who ran for Britain at the 2010 European Championships after finishing 18th in the London Marathon that year.
Virgin Money London Marathon Race Director Hugh Brasher said: "Once again we are delighted to be able to announce one of the strongest women's marathon fields ever seen. With our last three champions and the world half marathon record holder, these athletes can truly be called the Fantastic Four.
>"We are also absolutely thrilled that Paula has chosen London for her final marathon and we know the British crowds will be out in force on 26 April to celebrate her extraordinary career. This is a fitting celebration of marathon running in our 35th year."
> The 2015 elite women's line-up and their best marathon times:
> Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) 2:19:50
> Mary Keitany (Kenya) 2:18:37
> Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) 2:19:44
> Priscah Jeptoo (Kenya) 2:20:14
> Feyse Tadese (Ethiopia) 2:20:27
> Jemima Sumgong (Kenya) 2:20:41
> Tigist Tufa (Ethiopia) 2:21:52
> Tatyana Arkhipova (Russia) 2:23:29
> Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) 2:23:58
> Christelle Daunay (France) 2:24:22
> Ana Dulce Félix (Portugal) 2:25:40
> Sara Moreira (Portugal) 2:26:00
> Alessandra Aguilar (Spain) 2:27:00
> Volha Mazuronak (Belarus) 2:27:33
> Rkia El Moukim (Morocco) 2:28:12
> Iwona Lewandowska (Poland) 2:28:32
> Diane Nukuri (Burundi) 2:29:35
> Sonia Samuels (Great Britain & NI) 2:30:56
> Emma Stepto (Great Britain & NI) 2:32:40
> Rebecca Robinson (Great Britain & NI) 2:37:14