The build-up to the 2014 London Marathon has focused on the men’s race, where Mo Farah makes his debut against the best in the world.
The women’s race is an equally-thrilling prospect, though.
Just as the men’s event sees track star Farah try his first marathon, so the women’s features the marathon debut of Tirunesh Dibaba, also laden with World and Olympic gold medals at 5,000 and 10,000 metres.
And like Farah again, Dibaba faces the world’s best marathon runners in her first go at the event. Last year’s winner, Priscah Jeptoo of the strange running gait, returns to defend her title, having also picked up the New York Marathon title since then, and must be the slight favourite to win again. Double World marathon champion Edna Kiplagat will also toe the start line in London.
Perhaps the stiffest competition to Dibaba apart from Jeptoo will come from Tiki Gelana. Olympic champion on the streets of London in 2012, Gelana returned to London for last year’s marathon as the favourite.
But Gelana had a disastrous race. In their finite wisdom, the organisers had the women’s elite field start before the wheelchair field, which meant that the wheelchairs would have to overtake the women at some point on the course. This came to pass at the 15km water station – just as the elite women pulled in to grab their bottles, the wheelchair athletes came flying up behind them at top speed.
All the runners in the group got a start, but Gelana was unlucky enough to collide heavily with wheelchair athlete Josh Cassidy. The collision scuppered Gelana’s chances of victory – she continued running but faded badly and eventually finished 16 minutes behind the winner.
To avoid a similar incident this year, the wheelchair competitors will start before the elite women.
Oddly enough, Gelana also fell at a water station while winning her Olympic gold in London, after slipping on the wet road during a rain-soaked race. Let’s hope Gelana doesn’t continue her streak of London water station accidents this year.
So, barring falls, who will win?
Well, just as in the men’s race, the debutant track star may have a higher profile but will surely have to settle for a minor place behind the marathon specialists. Hopefully Dibaba will run well and stay in contention until the business end of the race. Gelana and Edna Kiplagat have championship-winning credentials – but the recent form of Stephen Kiprotich in the men’s race shows that World and Olympic champions don’t necessarily dominate the different challenge of a major city marathon.
Still, Priscah Jeptoo is the in-form runner of the women’s field, and she has already emulated Paula Radcliffe in demonstrating that an awkward running style is no bar to winning the London Marathon. Plus, she won silver in that 2012 Olympic Marathon behind Gelana, so London has been kind to her.
Jeptoo for the win, then – and it should be a fascinating race.