London

Legese locks on to Kipchoge’s record

Ethiopia’s Birhanu Legese will take aim at Eliud Kipchoge’s course record in Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon.

The 27-year-old is making his London bow at the 2021 race and will have to topple reigning champion Shura Kitata to take the crown.

But the man from the NN Running Team is the third fastest athlete in history over 26.2 miles and declared on Wednesday that he intends to improve on his 2:02:48 personal best by beating the Kenyan’s mark of 2:02:37, set in 2019.

“If the conditions are good on Sunday, that’s my target,” said the two-time Tokyo champion.

A win for either Kitata or Legese would put them in a strong position to win Series XIII of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the series was extended to conclude at the 2021 TCS New York City Marathon. Kitata currently sits in second place on 26 points, with Lawrence Cherono leading the way on 29.

Legese is just a point further back thanks to his 2020 Tokyo win. His fellow Ethiopian sighted a hamstring injury that hampered his bid for the Olympic title in the summer, and hinted it may still present issues for him on Sunday when the pace ramps up.

“I’ve prepared well and I feel confident about being competitive on Sunday,” he said. “But the hamstring pain is not really easy and, when it’s very fast speed, there might be some problems.

Following a scorching first half of 60:48 on Sunday’s BMW BERLIN MARATHON, both men know a more reserved pace will be required in London before the fireworks can begin.

“There were not enough competitive athletes to sustain that pace,” said Legese, who set his PB in the 2019 edition of Berlin when Kenenisa Bekele fell just two seconds short of Kipchoge’s 2:01:39 world record. “On Sunday, with the crowds cheering us, it could help to break the course record.”

There will, of course, be a Kenyan challenge to contend with on Sunday. Kitata became the first man to topple Eliud Kipchoge in last year’s edition of the race.

Without the double Olympic champion in town this time, it may fall to Evans Chebet to fly the flag. The 33-year-old won the 2020 Valencia Marathon in a course record of 2:03:00 and is seeking to draw inspiration from his compatriot:

“If Eliud is watching on Sunday, it will give me more motivation to run faster,” he said.

“The rivalry is there. I know the Ethiopians are used to staying behind a bit and then kicking in the last 200 or 300 metres. So it’s going to be a challenging race on Sunday and I’m going to need a lot of strength at the end to win.”

View the current series leaderboards here.