By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Kenya’s Olympic marathon champion Jemima Sumgong will defend her London title in April against one of the strongest fields ever assembled for a city race, having recovered from a fall to win last year, organizers said on Tuesday.
Sumgong, 32, cracked her head on the road three miles from the end of the 2016 race but bounced to her feet and fought back to take victory with a terrific late burst.
Four months later she became the first Kenyan woman to win Olympic marathon gold.
Compatriot Mary Keitany, who also fell after tangling with Sumgong but faded to ninth in London last year, returns for the race on April 23 seeking a third win to match the hat-trick of New York City Marathon titles she completed last November.
Keitany, 35, became the second fastest women’s marathon runner of all time, behind Briton Paula Radcliffe, when she won her second London race in 2012 in 2:18:37 but her lowly finish last year cost her a spot in Kenya’s Rio Olympics team.
Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba, who won bronze in Rio behind Bahrain’s Eunice Kirwa, is another big name in a lineup that includes all three medalists from last year’s race, three of the top five finishers in Rio, four previous London Marathon champions, and the winners at last year’s Abbott World Marathon Majors races in Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and New York.
“London is the marathon every runner wants to win,” said Sumgong. “I can’t wait to return to defend my title.”
Keitany, formerly half-marathon world record holder, is also desperate to do well.
“I love running in London,” she said. “After the sickness I had before the race and the fall last year during the race, I want to show everyone what I can do.
“My goal is to win the Virgin Money London Marathon for the third time and to demonstrate to everybody that I could have won the Olympic Games last year if I had been selected.”
Also in the field is Ethiopia’s triple Olympic and five-time world track champion Tirunesh Dibaba, who finished third on her marathon debut in London three years ago.
“This is a stellar field and everyone who is anyone in women’s marathon running will be in London on 23 April,” said race director Hugh Brasher.
A similarly impressive men’s field was announced last week, with Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathon runner in history and probably the greatest-ever all-round distance runner, top of the bill.
Bekele, due to compete in the Dubai marathon on Friday, ran two hours three minutes three seconds to win in Berlin last September, six seconds outside Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s world record there in 2014 and which will be in his sights this year.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)