Mo Farah already clashed with one marathon legend this week. He hopes to create another contest Sunday, but that will be much more difficult on the roads of the British capital.
The build-up to the London Marathon has hardly been singularly about Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner in history and overwhelming favorite to win his 10th straight 26.2-miler (TV/stream schedule here).
Instead the focus fell on Farah and his feud with former world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie.
And while nobody is in Kipchoge’s tier at the moment, race organizers still pitted him head-to-head with the hometown star Farah, boxing weigh-in style, for a photo opp before they shared a stage for Wednesday’s pre-race press conference.
Farah, wearing a bib reading “Sir Mo,” was then asked if it’s fair for the British public to expect him to win given his track record of success (that has started to translate on the roads in three marathons, winning his last time out in Chicago on Oct. 7).
“That’s where they’re used to, why not?” he said. “I don’t line up and go, I’m going to try to finish third or fourth.”
Last year, Farah, a four-time Olympic champion between 5000m and 10,000m, lined up for his first marathons since switching full-time to road racing. He took third in London, 124 seconds behind Kipchoge.
Three weeks after Kipchoge smashed the world record in Berlin — 2:01:39 — Farah lowered his personal best to 2:05:11 in winning Chicago. Both courses are flat, though Berlin is, like Kipchoge, in a class of its own for fast conditions.
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“I believe I could have gone a little bit faster,” Farah said. “It wasn’t about time. It was about winning. … I’m a lot more stronger [than at London 2018].”
He’ll need to be against a fit Kipchoge.
Kipchoge, at 34, is a year and a half younger than Farah but with nearly three times the marathon experience. While Farah has yet to break 2:05 in the marathon, Kipchoge has gone 2:05 or better in 10 of his last 11 marathons (including the Breaking 2 event, with the outlier being the Rio Olympics, where he won by a whopping 70 seconds in tough conditions).
There are other strong racers in Sunday’s field, led by Ethiopian Shura Kitata, who finished between Kipchoge and Farah last year and added a New York City runner-up. And the women’s race is deeper with three of the seven fastest in history, plus the best U.S. contingent in London in a decade.
“Eventually, Kipchoge’s going to lose a marathon,” NBC Sports analyst Josh Cox said. “Is this the time he starts losing? No.”
There’s little for Kipchoge to accomplish Sunday that would cause shock waves. The world record would be in play if Kipchoge hadn’t lowered it 78 seconds in Berlin. At this point, a course record or the fact that he’s trying to become the first man to win four London titles would be ho-hum feats.
“That world record was the last missing piece for him,” Cox said. “He’s done everything to prove he’s the greatest of all time. Now it’s about the legacy.”
Forget about fastest times in history. None of the other greats in modern marathons had a stretch like this. Abebe Bikila and Gebrselassie each won six straight, according to Tilastopaja.org.
If Kipchoge is chasing anything the rest of his career, it might be another try at breaking two hours in a staged, non-record-eligible setting like two years ago. He ran 2:00:25 on a race track in Italy.
“Those 25 seconds which he missed in Monza,” agent Valentijn Trouw said, according to LetsRun.com, “that goes sometimes through his mind.”
Kipchoge will continue to race as long as he loves the sport. As long as he enjoys the grind of austere training with his chore-sharing group in Kaptagat, where he scrubs the toilets just like everyone else. He could eventually go for wins in Boston or New York City, major marathons he has yet to enter. There’s also the Tokyo Olympics, where Kipchoge can become the third person to repeat as marathon gold medalist.
For now the onus is on London, even if the focus this week has been on two other distance greats.
“I am confident that I will run well on Sunday,” Kipchoge told media on Wednesday. “I am confident that I will win.”
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