Defending champion Shura Kitata is fully recovered from a hamstring injury and focussed on defending his London marathon title on Sunday 3 October.
The Ethiopian, who last year in stormy weather beat a loaded field that included four-time winner Eliud Kipchoge, says he’s fully fit after dropping out of the Olympic race in Sapporo in pain.
"I had prepared very well before the Olympics but then I had a hamstring injury. That was big pressure for me. But I'm now 100%,” he assured at a press conference in London on Wednesday, September 29.
Despite fitness concerns Kitata is the favourite alongside compatriot Birhanu Legese, who is seeking to win at his debut London marathon race.
There is also Evans Chebet who hopes to regain Kenya’s dominance in the British capital in Kipchoge’s absence.
The elite field hopes for calmer race conditions and cheery crowds as the marathon returns to its traditional course after 2020’s lapped race at St James’s Park.
Recovered after disappointment in Tokyo
“I had some slight problem in the leg. But I am fit and ready to run with no pain on Sunday. I have prepared very well I am feeling confident to run on Sunday and looking forward to a very good race,” he said.
“I had a hamstring injury and running with that isn’t easy. But I am now 100% though I know it could cause a problem if it comes to a sprint finish (on Sunday). But I am looking forward to doing what I did before.”
Kitata returns to a course he is quite familiar with.
He was a surprise second when double Olympic champion Kipchoge won his fourth London marathon in 2018 in a course record of 2:06.21. Later that year he was a runner-up in the New York marathon.
In 2019 the Ethiopian was fourth in London. But getting the win last year after beating Kenya’s Vincent Kipchumba in a sprint finish has stayed with him.
“The win had a great meaning for me. There was a positive reaction back in Ethiopia.
“It changed my life and a lot of things for me physically and even psychologically beating Eliud Kipchoge was special.”
The debutants seeking to surprise
World record holder Kipchoge is not on the start list but there is Kitata's compatriot Birhanu Legese, who was second in 2019 behind Kenenisa Bekele when he nearly broke the world record.
Legese defended his Tokyo marathon title in 2020 with a 2:02:48 and will be the fastest man on paper.
“This is the first time in London, and I am prepared to win the race,” he offered, optimistic the race conditions will be ideal for his first London appearance.
“The weather may have impact on the time if it's windy. But temperature or rain over the race may not make too much difference. If it's good conditions, then we'll see [on the course record]."
Another first timer in London is Evans Chebet. The Kenyan, who trains with Kipchumba, was second at last year’s race.
For him it will be an unfamiliar course but against runners he knows too well.
The Kenyan beat Ethiopia’s Legese in Valencia in 2020 when he triumphed in a course record of 2:03.00 and he feels Sunday could come down to the usual Kenya-Ethiopian marathon rivalry.
“In Valencia last year I was focussed on time. Legese and Lawrence Cherono pushed me hard. If I had not achieved a good time, then I wouldn’t have been invited here. But I wanted to improve my time so that I can run top world major marathons,” said Chebet.
He continued on his race tactic.
“I intend to go with the first group [of pacers].
“If you see, Kitata and Legese have a good time too. I want to run my personal best of 2:02 or 2:03.I know how the Ethiopians run, they like to stay behind and then kick in the last 300m.”
“Even though Eliud [Kipchoge] is not there this year, he has really motivated us as Kenyans. I know I am here to defend Kenya’s name. My target is to win on Sunday.”