There’s no shortage of subplots going into the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon, as arguably the strongest field in event history prepares to race through the English capital on Sunday, April 13.
For starters, there’s the possibility of a new world record. Ethiopian distance great Haile Gebrselassie will serve as pacemaker, and he’s slated to take six of this year’s elite competitors to the 13.1-mile mark at nearly world record pace.
Gebrselassie set two world marathon records during his illustrious career, so he knows a thing or two about setting the right tempo. Among those with faith in his abilities is current world-record holder Wilson Kipsang, who ran 2:03:23 last September in Berlin.
The 32-year-old Kenyan star placed fifth in last year’s London Marathon after fading at the 30-kilometer mark. This time out, he’s feeling confident about a better outcome.
“We have a more experienced pacemaker in Haile this year,” Kipsang said on Thursday, April 10, according to the London Marathon website. "He will take us through halfway in 61:45. Then, because it’s such a strong field, one of us needs to be ready to make a move in the second half of the race.
“It won’t be easy, but if I haven't used up too much energy in the first half, I will be ready to push the pace,” he added. “I believe it’s possible to set a world record on the London Marathon course, and if the weather is good on Sunday I’m confident I'll run well.”
Kipsang’s journey from pistol to pedestal won’t be a cakewalk, and he’ll have to contend with a talented pack that includes last year’s London champ Tsegaye Kebede, course record-holder Emmanuel Mutai, and Stephen Kiprotich, who earned marathon gold at both the 2012 Olympics and the 2013 World Championships.
And then there’s Mo Farah, the famed British track star and 2012 double gold medalist who’s making his marathon debut less than one month after collapsing just past the finish line of the NYC Half.
Farah has opted not to follow Gebrselassie, and instead, he and five others are going with a pacemaker slated to get them to 13.1 miles at 62:15—30 seconds behind the other elites.
"Ah, as he likes," Gebrselassie told the Guardian. "For me it doesn't matter. I'm telling you, I just keep what's important for the athlete. I don't want to bring them very fast, not too slow. I just want to keep them at a steady pace."
Farah’s decision to run the London Marathon has prompted criticism from some of his competitors—Kiprotich told the BBC that he doesn’t understand why the still-viable 5000-meter and 10,000-meter star would want to try longer distances—but he’s got a fan in Steve Jones, the 58-year-old Welshman whose 29-year-old British record of 2:07:13 may well go down.
“I think the only unknown is whether he can get from A to B," Jones told the Telegraph. "I was never afraid of the marathon and I can't see any reason why Mo would have any fear. I'm just a journeyman runner compared with Mo. I don't see why he shouldn't have the same kind of confidence."
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg