• London Marathon the ‘unofficial’ Kenyan Olympic trials?

  • Share on Facebook

  • Geoffrey Mutai the 2011 London Marathon Champion.(Photo:File)Geoffrey Mutai the 2011 London Marathon Champion.(Photo:File)
Apr 20, 2012-

There’s more than one thing on the minds of defending champions Emmanuel Mutai and Mary Keitany ahead of Sunday’s Virgin London Marathon – retaining the titles they won so decisively 12 months’ ago in this IAAF Gold Label Road Race, and gaining selection for the Olympic Games.

For many of the world class athletes racing this weekend do so with a place on the Olympic start line in a little over three months’ time still up for grabs.

That goes, not just for Mutai and Keitany, but for men’s World record holder Patrick Makau and women’s World champion Edna Kiplagat, too. Indeed, Sunday’s races have been dubbed by race director David Bedford the ‘unofficial’ Kenyan Olympic trials.

Not without reason. Back in January Kenyan selectors named six men and six women on Olympic shortlists, and Bedford duly snapped up four of the men and three women for his London race.

Mutai, who ran 2:04:40 in 2011 to set a new course record, admitted it will be tougher this year not least because he suffered a bout of typhoid just a month ago, missed a few days training at the end of March and took a week or two to regain full fitness.

“For me this will definitely be a tougher competition than last year because the field is so strong,” he said this week. “Everyone has run a good time so I will have to perform at my best.

“I had a fever a few weeks ago and was under medication. But I am feeling better now and my recovery has been good. I will have to be at my best.”

Mutai’s name tops an elite men’s line-up that matches in speed and quality. Attached to the names in the men’s field are titles such as World record holder, double World champion, World Marathon Majors champion, reigning and former London champions, London course record holder, double Berlin champion, double Frankfurt champion and former two-times New York champion.

Mutai went on from London to finish second in New York last November pocketing half a million dollars as World Marathon Majors champion and has arrived in the British capital this year in good spirits after seeing two of his training partners win medals in big city marathons last weekend – Henry Sugut, who broke the Vienna course record last Sunday, and Bernard Kipyego who was third in Boston on Monday

. “For me this is a good sign,” agreed Mutai. “We have trained a lot together and this shows that my training has been going OK. It definitely gives me confidence for London. “The selection is challenging but I think if I can finish in the top three here I will qualify,” he added.

“The extra pressure is there because of the Olympic selection but I’ve been concentrating on running well in London. What comes after, I will think about then.”

Kenyan runners won all six World Marathon Majors races in 2011 plus virtually every other significant city marathon. They also filled all of the top 20 places on the 2011 world list, and own the six fastest times in the London field.

Fastest of the lot are the two men who broke 2:04 last year: Makau, who erased Haile Gebrselassie’s World mark in Berlin last September just five months after finishing third in London, and Wilson Kipsang, who was just four seconds slower when he retained his Frankfurt title at the end of October. Makau has been keeping his cards close to his chest here this week.

“All I can say is that as athletes, we are like brothers,” said the 26-year old, who became a father to twin boys in January. “It’s a matter of how much training you’ve done. On one day they might beat me, and on another, if I’ve trained more, I’ll beat them. But there is no pressure between us because we have such great friendship.”

Double World champion Abel Kirui is also in the field again, sounding as confident as anyone despite finishing fifth in 2010 and dropping out 12 months ago.

The two other Kenyan contenders – neither on the Olympic shortlist – are three-times London champion Martin Lel, who was second last year but limped out of January’s Dubai marathon with an injury, and world silver medallist Vincent Kipruto.

Tsegaye Kebede is the only non-Kenyan to win the London men’s title in the last eight years and the talented 2010 champion leads the challenge again this time. Kebede is also chasing an Olympic place. Olympic silver medallist Jaouad Gharib returns for his eighth London Marathon looking as competitive as ever.

The field also includes the World Half Marathon record holder, Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea.

Keitany’s difficult task – women’s race

The women’s race is equally loaded containing four athletes who have broken the 2:20 barrier, no fewer than 13 who have run quicker than 2:24, and 16 have been under 2:25.

Keitany’s rivals include four fellow Kenyans, five quality Ethiopians, and double London champion Irina Mikitenko.

Keitany had a brilliant year in 2011 when she smashed the World Half Marathon record, broke the 2 hours 20 minutes barrier with a memorable victory in London, and ran the first half of the New York City Marathon last November inside World record schedule before fading to third.

The 30-year-old claims to have learned from her New York nightmare, while insisting she will continue to run without fear.

“Sometimes your body can cheat you and tell you that you are OK when you fail to understand your body is having problems.

“But I don’t fear the Marathon. I think of myself as a Marathon runner now and I also think I have to better understand tactics, to know the tactics of running and handling a race.”

The more tactically aware Keitany faces a tough task against a field that includes double London winner Irina Mikitenko, World champion Edna Kiplagat and 2011 Berlin champion Florence Kiplagat.