London

"I'm just happy to be here," says Lel

Three-time champion Martin Lel, a late addition to yet another stacked line-up for this year's Virgin London Marathon, could be the first athlete to win four titles in the capital.

Lel, who has not completed a marathon since his fifth place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, secured his third London title in 2008, a feat matched by only two other male athletes - Mexico's Dionicio Ceron (1994-1996) and Portugal's Antonio Pinto (1992, 1997 and 2000).

It was a thrilling occasion, not just because he raced to a hat trick of titles to retain his crown, but because he led three athletes under 2:06 on the 100th anniversary of marathon running.

Yet, while he could make history this Sunday, he insists he doesn't have a target time and his main objective is simply to try his best.

"I'm just happy to be here once again," says Lel, who smashed what was then the course record with a personal best of 2:05.15. "I can't really comment about the race on Sunday other than to say my aim is to see what position I'm in after two years out."

Despite such comments, there is every chance he could be pulled to yet another quick time as race director David Bedford has once again produced an impressive field.

Among those on the start line will be eight of the top ten from last year's contest, including all three medallists; three of the top five from Beijing; all three medallists from the 2009 World Championships in Berlin; the three 2010 European Championships medallists; the fastest man in the world in 2010; the third and fourth fastest marathon runners of all time and seven athletes who have recorded marks of sub-2:06.

Unlike Lel, fellow Kenyans James Kwambai and Patrick Makau are unfamiliar with the London course. But as the third and fourth fastest of all time, with times of 2:04:27 and 2:04:48 respectively, they will be strong contestants.

Kwambai, the fastest in the field, has a less consistent marathon history than his fellow countryman. Having recorded his lifetime best when finishing second in Rotterdam in 2009 he started the New York Marathon later that year as one of the favourites, but failed to finish.

In 2010, he clocked his slowest ever marathon time in Rotterdam, recording 2:24:07, and although he figured among the leading pack in New York last November, he fell off the pace in the final stages and once again missed out on the podium, coming fifth in 2:11:31.

"I had some problems and I thought I'd lost my potential," he admits. "But now I'm back and I want to try my best."

Makau has demonstrated more recent and consistent form. Following a lifetime best of 2:04:48 from his victory in Rotterdam in early 2010, he went into the Berlin Marathon as the fourth fastest in history with the fifth quickest time. He didn't disappoint. Under challenging conditions once again took the win, retaining his composure to defeat his compatriot Geoffrey Mutai by two seconds.

"I'm in great condition and happy to run with the other guys," said Makau. "They have good experience, but there is no guarantee about the time. It's a big challenge."

One that he, Kwambai, Lel, and thousands of spectators along the course, will inevitably relish.