4 Thoughts on the 2017 London Marathon Men’s Field: London’s STACKED Once Again, Who’s Left To Face Galen Rupp Boston, Bedan Karoki’s Debut, and Can Kenenisa Bekele’s Body Hold Up?

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By LetsRun.com
January 9, 2017

On Monday morning, the Virgin Money London Marathon announced its 2017 men’s elite field and it is terrific, as usual. The headliner is the man many believe to be the planet’s greatest-ever distance runner, Kenenisa Bekele (who will also be running the Dubai Marathon on January 20), but there’s tons of talent behind him as, apart from Eliud Kipchoge, the winner of every major 2016 marathon is entered. That includes 2016 Tokyo champ/Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa, 2016 Chicago champ Abel Kirui and 2016 New York champ Ghirmay Ghebreslassie as well as the 2016 Dubai and Amsterdam champs (Tesfaye Abera and Daniel Wanjiru). Plus 2016 London runner-up Stanley Biwott, who would have smashed the course record last year if not for Eliud Kipchoge, and the debut of ace half marathoner Bedan Karoki.

You can read about the whole field here – Full 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon field – or see the names in the table on the right.

2017 London Men’s Field
Kenenisa Bekele (ETH)                          2:03:03
Stanley Biwott (KEN)                              2:03:51
Tesfaye Abera (ETH)                             2:04:24
Feyisa Lilesa (ETH)                                2:04:52
Abel Kirui (KEN)                                   2:05:04
Daniel Wanjiru (KEN)                            2:05:21
Tilahun Regassa (ETH)                           2:05:27
Abraham Tadesse (SUI)                          2:06:40
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI)                 2:07:46
Amanuel Mesel (ERI)                             2:08:17
Asefa Mengstu (ETH)                             2:08:41
Oleksandr Sitkovsky (UKR)                   2:09:11
Alphonce Felix Simbu (TAN)                 2:09:19
Javier Guerra (ESP)                                2:09:33
Ghebre Kibrom (ERI)                             2:09:36
Vitaliy Shafar (UKR)                              2:09:53
Michael Shelley (AUS)                           2:11:15
Chris Thompson (GBR)                          2:11:19
Bayron Piedra (ECU)                              2:14:12
Kevin Seaward (IRL)                              2:14:52
Mick Clohisey (IRL)                               2:15:11
Robbie Simpson (GBR)                          2:15:38
Ian Kimpton (GBR)                                2:15:55
Matthew Hynes (GBR)                           2:16:00
Bouabdellah Tahri (FRA)                       2:16:28
Andrew Davies (GBR)                            2:16:55
Tom Anderson (GBR)                             2:19:52
Jesús Arturo Esparza (MEX)                  2:23:04
Bedan Karoki Muchiri (KEN)                   Debut

The absence of Kipchoge, the two-time defending champ who is skipping London to participate in Nike’s sub-2:00 attempt, will be felt, but this remains an incredibly tough race to win. We offer four thoughts/questions below.

1. It’s not the greatest field ever…but it’s still pretty great

Every year, London releases its elite men’s field in January, and every year, everyone praises it as the greatest field ever assembled. That’s not the case this year, with the world’s #1 marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge, bypassing the traditional spring marathon season to chase a sub-2:00 marathon in a Nike-fueled science project. But you’ve still got the following for London 2017:

  • The greatest distance runner of all time (Bekele) 
  • Four of the six 2016 World Marathon Majors champions
  • Three of the top five from the 2016 Olympics
  • Defending champs of two of the best non-WMM marathons, Dubai and Amsterdam
  • Four men with PRs under 2:05, seven under 2:06 and 16 under 2:10
  • One of the world’s best half marathoners (World Half runner-up Bedan Karoki) making his debut
  • The second-fastest guy in the history of the London course (Stanley Biwott)

It’s not the Kipchoge-Bekele duel everyone was hoping for, but this race is still loaded. And by PR, it’s actually pretty comparable to the initial announcement of last year’s field.

2017 London2016 London
# With PR Under 2:0422
# With PR Under 2:0545
# With PR Under 2:0678
# With PR Under 2:101616

2. Can Kenenisa Bekele’s body hold up?

Last year offered a tantalizing glimpse at what Bekele is capable of in the marathon with some healthy training under his belt. Though he said he was only “90%” going into London, he managed to finish third there in 2:06:36. Before Berlin, he was still downplaying his chances publicly but said that he was finally able to train without pain. He wound up running the second-fastest time ever on a record-eligible course.

We have to assume that Bekele is healthy enough to run Dubai next week; he wouldn’t announce that he’s running a marathon in 11 days only to immediately withdraw from the race. But it’s fair to wonder whether Bekele can make it through what could be a grueling marathon schedule in 2017: Dubai on January 20, London on April 23 and the World Championships on August 6 (if he’s selected). At 34, Bekele isn’t ancient by marathoner standards, but he’s been running at a world-class level since 2001 and struggled to log consistent training from 2010 to 2016 due to a series of injuries, in particular, a nagging calf ailment.

Bekele has lofty goals in 2017 — a world record and a world championship — and the clock is ticking. And if he’s locked into a multi-year contract with London, he has no choice but to honor that agreement as well. Bekele looks to be a healthier runner now than the 2015 version that saw him drop out after 30 kilometers in Dubai and then scratch from London three months later. But three marathons in seven months is tough for anyone, let alone someone with Bekele’s injury history.

3. Where will Wilson Kipsang race? So who does this leave for Boston? 

Here’s the list of the 10 fastest marathoners from 2016 and their 2017 marathon plans:

NameCountry2016 SB2017 marathon(s)
Kenenisa BekeleEthiopia2:03:03Dubai, London
Eliud KipchogeKenya2:03:05Nike sub-2 attempt
Wilson KipsangKenya2:03:13???
Stanley BiwottKenya2:03:51London
Tesfaye AberaEthiopia2:04:24London
Hayle LemiEthiopia2:04:33Boston
Tsegaye MekonnenEthiopia2:04:46Dubai
Wilson ErupeKenya2:05:13???
Sisay LemmaEthiopia2:05:16???
Daniel WanjiruKenya2:05:21London

 

Looking at that list, the biggest surprise is that is that Wilson Kipsang isn’t doing London. He’s run there every year since 2012, winning in 2012 and 2014, and coming off a personal best in Berlin, you’d think London would want to lock him up. In addition, there’s a financial incentive for Kipsang to run London: it represents the start of World Marathon Majors Series XI. The current WMM series, Series X, includes 2017 Boston, but Eliud Kipchoge has already locked up the title thanks to wins in London and Rio last year. If Kipsang wants a shot at the $500,000 grand prize, running London would have offered him a chance to get a leg up on the competition. Running Boston doesn’t help him, though obviously both would offer their own appearance/prize money. If Kipsang does run Boston, he’d be major competition for Galen Rupp and though he’s excelled in London and Berlin, Kipsang can handle tough courses, winning in New York in 2014.

But just because Kipsang isn’t running London doesn’t guarantee he’s doing Boston. Tokyo, on February 26, is a World Marathon Major and they need guys to run it, especially considering defending Tokyo champ Feyisa Lilesa is doing London (that was the second biggest surprise for us today as we figured Lelisa would go back to Tokyo).

Update: A source informs us that Kipsang will be running Tokyo and going after the world record.

Erupe, as an EPO cheat, is banned from running any World Marathon Majors, so he won’t be in Boston or London this year. That leaves Sisay Lemma as the last big domino to fall. Lemma ran Dubai in 2015 and 2016 and London in 2016. It’s quite possible he runs Dubai again (the full Dubai field has yet to be released), but he’s also an option for Boston.

It would be great for Boston fans to see Kipsang vs. Rupp in Boston, but as Nike’s sub-two project has made clear, dream matchups don’t always materialize in the world of marathoning. In all honesty, there are too many good marathons in the spring and not quite enough talent to cover it all. 

4. How will Bedan Karoki fare in his debut?

Karoki was initially slated to debut in London last year, but wound up scratching before the race. Fortunately, he’s committed to giving it another go in 2017. Karoki is a strong track runner (26:52 10k pb, 4th in 10k at Worlds in 2015), but he could be even better in the marathon as his road/XC performances have been spectacular. Consider: he’s run five career half marathons, with an average time of 59:38 and a slowest time of 60:02 (his PR is 59:14). That’s a phenomenal record. Add in his runner-up performances at World XC in 2015 and the World Half Marathon Champs in 2016 and he’s shown everything you could want from an elite marathoner. His debut will be fascinating.

For more on Karoki, check out this Andy Arnold article from last year: LRC Why Bedan Karoki Is The Favorite At The World Half Champs, Expect Big Years From Asbel Kiprop And Ronald Kwemoi & More News From Our Man On The Ground In Kenya

Talk about the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon in our messageboard: MB: London Marathon 2017 elite field.