By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Triple Olympic track champion Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathon runner in history, will make another attempt at claiming the world record over the classic 26.2 mile distance when he leads a stellar field for the London marathon in April.
Ethiopian Bekele, widely regarded as the greatest distance runner of all time and world record holder over 10,000 and 5,000 meters, ran two hours, three minutes and three seconds when winning Berlin last September, six seconds outside Dennis Kimetto's world record of 2:02:57 set on the same course in 2014.
Having been left out of the Ethiopian team for the Rio Olympics a month earlier it was a clear message from Bekele that he had mastered the marathon after initially producing very good, but not world best-threatening times in his first forays over the distance.
The 34-year-old, with five track world titles to his name over 10,000m and 5,000, finished third in London last year behind Kenyan duo Eliud Kipchoge and Stanley Biwott and Kipchoge’s course record of 2:03:05 and Kimetto’s world mark will both be in his sights.
"London is the greatest marathon in the world and I would love to win there," Bekele said in a statement issued by race organizers revealing the lineup on Monday. "The field is always the best and victory means so much. After finishing third last year, I know what I need to do to win."
Biwott, who won the 2015 New York City Marathon, is likely to be Bekele’s main rival as he leads the Kenyan challenge in the absence of two-time champion Kipchoge. Biwott finished runner-up in 2014, fourth in 2015 and second again last year in a personal best of 2:03:51.
The leading pair are two of seven in the field who have run under 2:06, while the race will also feature two marathon world champions, three of the top five finishers from last summer’s Olympics, and the winners of the Abbott World Marathon Majors races in Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and New York in 2016.
Abel Kirui, who won the world marathon title in 2011 and 2013, returns to London for the first time since 2012 when he was fifth, four months before winning Olympic silver in the same city.
Eritrean Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, who became the youngest world marathon champion when he took the 2015 world title in Beijing at 19, also runs.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)