Kenenisa Bekele eyes world record at London Marathon

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Ethiopian icon Kenenisa Bekele takes his second crack at the 26.2-mile world record this year at the London Marathon, live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 a.m. ET.

Bekele, an Olympic champion and world-record holder in the 5000m and 10,000m, leads a field that includes Rio Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia and 2016 New York City Marathon winner Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea.

The women’s race on Sunday is even more decorated:

Mary Keitany: Five combined London and NYC Marathon wins
Vivian Cheruiyot: Rio Olympic 5000m champ in marathon debut
Tirunesh Dibaba: Eight combined Olympic/world titles at 5000m/10,000m
Mare Dibaba: 2015 World marathon champion
Tigist Tufa: 2015 London Marathon winner
Florence Kiplagat: Two Berlin Marathon titles

If one runner is the focus Sunday, it’s Bekele.

In his last finished marathon, Bekele missed the world record of 2:02:57 by six seconds in September.

He’s already arguably the greatest runner of all time, by virtue of his eight combined Olympic and world 5000m and 10,000m gold medals and enduring world records in both distances.

Bekele, now 34, set the 5000m mark in 2004. Nobody has been within nine seconds since. He broke the 10,000m record in 2004 and 2005. Nobody has been within 18 seconds in the last 12 years.

Bekele moved up to the marathon in 2014 and had decent results but was not a world-beater.

Until Sept. 25. Bekele won the Berlin Marathon in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 3 seconds, the second-fastest time ever on a record-eligible course. He was disappointed that he did not break Dennis Kimetto‘s world record from 2014.

London will mark Bekele’s third marathon in the last seven months. He was trampled at the start of the Dubai Marathon on Jan. 20 and then dropped out of the race halfway through, citing a calf injury from the fall.

Bekele says he is fit.

“I am in just as good shape as I was in Berlin last year,” he said, according to London organizers. “I think I can improve my personal best.”

Don’t be so sure.

Berlin is unquestionably the best course for world-record chasing. Six of the seven fastest marathon times in history came in Berlin in the last six years (on record-eligible courses).

Bekele also benefited in Berlin last year from having Wilson Kipsang, the former world-record holder, to push him to a faster time in the final miles.

The London field includes neither Kipsang nor Eliud Kipchoge, considered the world’s best marathoner. Kipchoge is preparing for Nike’s special attempt to break two hours in the marathon on an Italian race track in two weeks. That Nike attempt is reportedly not for an officially sanctioned world record, though.

Bekele is one of eight active runners who have broken 2:04. None of the other seven are in the London field.

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