Kenenisa Bekele withdrew from Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a calf injury two days before he was to duel world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge.
Bekele, a 38-year-old Ethiopian and the second-fastest marathoner ever, said he began feeling an unspecified, minor left calf injury two weeks ago that he attributed to over-training.
“I have been having treatment every day since then and I truly believed I would be ready, but today it is worse and I now know I cannot race on it,” was posted on Bekele’s social media Friday.
Bekele did not mention the injury in a Wednesday press conference, sitting socially distanced from Kipchoge at a table.
The marathon, with more than 40 elite men entered, plus women’s and wheelchair races, was headlined as a duel between the two fastest marathoners in history. It was postponed from its traditional April date and moved to a looped course in St. James’s Park due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kenyan Kipchoge lowered the world record to 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Last year in Berlin, the Ethiopian Bekele won in 2:01:41 without Kipchoge in the field.
Kipchoge has won 11 of his 12 career marathons. Bekele, a more accomplished track runner who won Olympic gold medals and lowered world records at 5000m and 10,000m, has never beaten Kipchoge in a marathon.
“This race was so important to me,” Bekele posted. “My time in Berlin last year gave me great confidence and motivation and I was looking forward to show that again, I have worked so hard for it. I realise many people around the world have been looking forward to this race.”
Bekele committed to racing the 2021 London Marathon, three months before the Tokyo Olympics. But, with the Ethiopian aging and with an up-and-down marathon history, we may have missed the best chance for a peak Bekele and peak Kipchoge matchup over 26.2 miles.
Their most memorable duel came in 2003, when an 18-year-old Kipchoge outsprinted mile world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj and Bekele for the world 5000m title.
Kipchoge moved to the marathon after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic team on the track.
Bekele made his marathon debut in 2014 and ascended by winning Berlin in 2016 in 2:03:03, then the second-fastest time in history. Since then, Bekele started six marathons with these results: a win, a runner up, a sixth and three DNFs.
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