Record books beckon for Assefa in London

There’s a saying familiar to Londoners: you wait ages for one of the city’s big red buses to turn up, only for two to come along at once.
It’s felt that way for marathon records in recent times.
The men’s world record set by Dennis Kimetto in 2014 lasted for four years until Eliud Kipchoge broke it in Berlin. It’s fallen twice more since then.
Paula Radcliffe hung on to her women’s mixed record for the best part of 20 years until Brigid Kosgei smashed it in 2019, and it was then obliterated again in 2023. Two other women have also run faster than Radcliffe’s 2003 mark since then.
The same can be said for a swathe of national records in the open division and equally in the wheelchair category, where course and world records have begun falling like autumn leaves in a stiff breeze.

Marcel Hug picked up a cool $50,000 in Boston on Monday for breaking the record he set 12 months earlier on the same streets, and New York’s women’s wheelchair course record has fallen in the last two editions. Four women went under the world record in Berlin in 2023 as well.
Among this cascade of tumbling times, one mark has withstood the advance of training and technology for seven years. But in London this weekend, its days may well come to an end.
Mary Keitany stopped the clock on The Mall at 2:17:01 in 2017, taking ownership of the slightly curiously-named women’s only world record.
"How can a record run by a woman NOT be a women’s only world record", many observers may ask.
The answer is because in some races, like Berlin, the women do not go from a different start to the men or the masses, and they can have a phalanx of male pacemakers to assist them.
When Tigist Assefa set that eye-watering 2:11:53 in the German capital last September, she was nestled in amongst a clutch of male runners for much of her effort before blazing away on her own in the final stanza.
Kosgei was similarly assisted by male pacers in Chicago four years earlier. Both world records, but ‘mixed’.
When Keitany set her mark in London, there was no male pacemaker to tow her along. She set off with the women’s field and just ran away from them.
No one has gotten close to that performance since then, but this Sunday’s race from the green spaces of Greenwich Park to the royal road that leads to the King’s front door offers the very real prospect that it could happen at last.
Assefa brings her astonishing CV to town, and she will need it. The Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir is also in the lineup, as is Kosgei. Ruth Chepngetich is another lighting fast contender, and 2022 London winner Yalemzerf Yehualaw knows her way to the tape.
The women will start at a different time to the men and the masses, and they will have female pacemakers to keep them on track for the record.
If the race is as fast as this lineup suggests, they will be earning their money with every step.
“We are in a golden age of women’s marathon running,” said event director Hugh Brasher.
“When Paula Radcliffe ran her incredible world record of 2:15:25 at the 2003 London Marathon, we had to wait 16 years for Brigid Kosgei to beat it.
“But since then, a further four women have run faster than Paula’s time including Tigst Assefa, who lowered the world record even further with her stunning run in Berlin last year. 

“I suspect that with Assefa, Kosgei and the likes of Ruth Chepngetich, Peres Jepchirchir and Yalemzerf Yehualaw in the field and where a total of ten women have run under two hours 17 minutes and 30 seconds, Keitany’s world record is going to be under serious threat at the 2024 TCS London Marathon.” 
It would certainly seem like the stage is set for a record and - much like the wait for one of those tall red London buses - maybe more than one of them will show up.

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