Kipchoge-Bekele rivalry is the only constant in London

Kipchoge-Bekele rivalry is the only constant in London

LONDON • An unfamiliar course, poor weather and the absence of 750,000 cheering fans suggest a world record is unlikely in Sunday’s London Marathon but longstanding rivals Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele could still produce a race for the ages.

After the cancellation of the original race, initially set for April, due to Covid-19, organisers have pulled together an elite-only event, featuring almost 20 laps of St James’ Park, behind high fences and watched only by a handful of journalists, coaches and event officials.

Runners are required to take a coronavirus test before they leave for London and when they arrive. They will be staying at an athlete-only hotel, and will be tested again today before the event on Sunday.

For Kenya’s Kipchoge, the change in route will feel familiar after he became the first man to break two hours on a similar multi-lap course in Vienna last year, but his 1hr 59min 40sec time was ruled unofficial due to pacemaker and drink station anomalies.

There is no getting around his official record, however, posted 2:01.39 in Berlin in 2018.

Ethiopia’s Bekele had won multiple world and Olympic track titles, setting longstanding world records along the way.

But his marathon best seemed to be behind him until he somehow set a 2:01.41 time in Berlin last year to miss Kipchoge’s mark by two seconds, making the duo the only men to have broken 2hr 2min for the distance.

It is remarkable that both won distance world titles in 2003 and now, 17 years on, are still breaking new ground.

Bekele, who still holds the 10,000m world record although he lost his 5,000m mark last month, is 38 years old, while Kipchoge is three years younger.

“It should be a great race and I’m really looking forward to it after almost a year since I last competed,” said Kipchoge, who is seeking a record fifth London title.

“It’s (world record) not an easy thing. It’s a long way and maybe at some point, you’re losing some speed because of the curve. I don’t know how curved it is, we will see.”

Bekele agreed that breaking the mark would be tough, adding: “It’s a new course. At this moment, it’s really difficult to say if it’s a really fast course or not.”

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    Elite competitors set to run the multi-lap London Marathon course.

Both runners also admitted the race would have a different feel without fans lining the route.

“Crowds plays a massive role, especially in marathons,” said Kipchoge. “Sunday will be a different race whereby it will be a silent feel.”

Kipchoge will wear the latest version of Nike’s carbon-plated Alphafly Next% shoe, which comply with World Athletics’ new restrictions on cushioning height but are still perceived to give a considerable advantage over traditional shoes.

Bekele has opted for the older Vaporfly version that served him so well last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS