Mary Keitany will lead a quality Kenyan quartet at the 2012 Virgin London Marathon next April when she defends her women's title against many of the world's top runners just three months before the London Olympic Games.
Keitany had a brilliant year in 2011 when she smashed the world half marathon record, broke the 2 hours 20 minutes barrier with a memorable victory in London, and ran the first half of the New York City Marathon in November inside world record schedule before fading to finish third.
But the 30-year-old faces a tough task when she returns to London as the women's field assembled by joint Race Director Dave Bedford, contains no fewer than 15 women who have run the distance quicker than 2:25, including the reigning World and Olympic champions, and three athletes who have broken 2:20.
Not least among Keitany's opponents will be a trio of compatriots, all of whom will be vying for spots on Kenya's Olympic team. They are the World Champion, Edna Kiplagat, who was third in London last year after winning the 2010 New York title; Priscah Jeptoo, this year's Paris champion and silver medallist at the Daegu World Championships; and Florence Kiplagat who was a brilliant winner of the Berlin marathon in September.
The impressive list of non-Kenyan entrants for the women's race is headed by Germany's Irina Mikitenko, London champion in 2008 and 2009, and includes six talented Ethiopians, the Olympic champion, Constantina Dita of Romania, the experienced Russian pair, Inga Abitova and Mariya Konovalova, Swedish record holder Isabellah Andersson, and Portuguese star Jessica Augusto.
The Ethiopian women will also be fighting for Olympic berths. They include Atsede Baysa, the double Paris marathon champion, Ejegayehu Dibaba, runner-up in Chicago this year, Aberu Kebede, the 2010 Berlin champion, Toronto champion Korene Jelila, and Bezunesh Bekele, who was fourth in London and at the Daegu World Championships.
�"This has to be one of the most talented women's fields we've ever had and with numerous Olympic places up for grabs I'm sure we'll see a fantastic race," said Bedford.
�"We are delighted that our champion Mary Keitany is back following her superb victory this year but she will have to be at her very best just to win the battle of the Kenyans, while athletes from other countries have great marathon pedigrees of their own and will have everything to prove themselves ahead of the Olympic Games."
An intriguing race is sure to take place following UK Athletics' early selection of Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi announced last week, securing the one remaining women's Olympic place will be the chief concern of Britain's leading entrants.
That won't be easy as the British pack contains two other athletes who have achieved the qualifying time of 2:31�Bristol-based Claire Hallissey, who was sixth in Chicago in 2:29:27, and Winchester's Louise Damen who ran 2:30:00 in London in 2011�plus the two-times Olympian and former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Liz Yelling who has a personal best of 2:28:33.
Other Britons vying for Olympic places include Brighton champion Alyson Dixon, Susan Partridge from Leeds, Sale's Amy Whitehead, Helen Decker of Ipswich and Rebecca Robinson from Kendal, while Freya Murray and Sonia Samuels will make their marathon debuts.
�"The British battle for women's Olympic places will be an intriguing part of next year's race," said Bedford, joint Race Director of the Virgin London Marathon and a member of UKA's marathon selection panel.
�"With the Olympic Games in London just a few months later the incentive for British marathon runners couldn't be greater."
Dave Bedford was also recently announced as the new Chairman of the IAAF Road Running Commission.
Elite WomenPB Mary Keitany (Kenya) 2:19:19 Irina Mikitenko (Germany) 2:19:19 Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) 2:19:44 Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) 2:20:46 Constantina Dita (Romania) 2:21:30 Atsede Baysa (Ethiopia) 2:22:04 Ejegayehu Dibaba (Ethiopia) 2:22:09 Inga Abitova (Russia) 2:22:19 Korene Jelila (Ethiopia) 2:22:43 Priscah Jeptoo (Kenya) 2:22:51 Bezunesh Bekele (Ethiopia) 2:23:09 Isabellah Andersson (Sweden) 2:23:41 Mariya Konovalova (Russia) 2:23:50 Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) 2:23:58 Jessica Augusto (Portugal) 2:24:33 Nadia Ejjafini (Italy) 2:26:15 Yuliya Ruban (Ukraine) 2:27:00 Leading British entrantsPB Liz Yelling 2:28:33 Claire Hallissey 2:29:27 Louise Damen 2:30:00 Susan Partridge 2:34:13 Alyson Dixon 2:34:51 Amy Whitehead 2:35:39 Helen Decker 2:35:43 Rebecca Robinson 2:37:14 Freya Murray Debut Sonia Samuels Debut
For more information contact the Virgin London Marathon Press Office:
Nicola Okey 020 7902 0182 / 07799 661345; firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Finch 020 7902 0199; email@example.com