Insanely Good Women’s Field Announced For 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon – Is This Race Tougher To Win Than The 2016 Olympics?
The Champions From The 2015 Dubai, London, Berlin, Worlds, Chicago, and New York Marathons Will All Battle; Field Includes Five Sub-2:20 and Eight Sub-2:21 Women
Defending Champ Tigist Tufa, 2015 Major Champs Mary Keitany, Gladys Cherono & Mare Dibaba Will All Compete
January 12, 2016
The Virgin Money London Marathon announced its women’s elite field for the 2016 edition today and any fears that the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics would lower the quality of the field have been squashed. It’s going to be a HECK of a race any way you slice it.
Like fast times? Eight women in the field have broken 2:21, with five under 2:20.
Like winners? The race includes the defending champions from six of the planet’s biggest marathons: Dubai, London, the World Championships, Berlin, Chicago and New York.
Like star power? Six of the top seven from LetsRun’s 2015 women’s marathon rankings (including the entire top five) will toe the start line in Greenwich Park.
The top two finishers from 2015 — Ethiopian Tigist Tufa and Kenyan Mary Keitany — will return for this year’s race, to be held on April 24. Tufa, who didn’t break 2:40 until three years ago, defeated two-time London champ Keitany in the British capital last year to earn her first major victory. Six months later in New York, Keitany took revenge, pulling away from Tufa during mile 22 to repeat as NYC Marathon champ (Tufa wound up third).
While both Tufa (who was also sixth at the World Champs in August) and Keitany (the second-fastest marathoner in history, with a 2:18:37 pb set in London in 2012) are exceptional runners, neither is a lock to win in London. LetsRun’s top-ranked marathoner for 2015, Mare Dibaba, is entered and at 26 is coming off the best year of her career: wins in Xiamen (2:19:52) and at the World Championships (2:27:35) plus a runner-up effort in Boston (2:24:59). Last year’s fastest marathoner, Gladys Cherono, will run her first London after an incredible rookie season that saw her place second in Dubai (2:20:03) and win Berlin (2:19:25) in her first two career marathons.
And it doesn’t end there! 2010 London champ Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia (1st Dubai, 4th London, 2nd New York in ’15) and 2015 Chicago champ Florence Kiplagat — who also set a world record in the half marathon last year — are also in the field, as is 2013 London champ (and ’12 Olympic silver medalist) Priscah Jeptoo. It’s an embarrassment of riches — as usual — and if it weren’t for the Olympics, this would easily be the best marathon field of 2016.
For a full breakdown of the field, you’ll have to wait until our preview in April, but below we take a quick look at a few of the biggest storylines three months out from the race.
Elite women’s field, with personal bests
Mary Keitany (KEN) 2:18:37
Gladys Cherono (KEN) 2:19:25
Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2:19:31
Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:44
Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:19:52
Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 2:20:14
Feyse Tadese (ETH) 2:20:27
Jemima Sumgong (KEN) 2:20:48
Tigist Tufa (ETH) 2:21:52
Jessica Augusto (POR) 2:24:25
Volha Mazuronak (BLR) 2:25:36
Rkia El Moukim (MAR) 2:26:33
Diana Lobacevske (LTU) 2:28:03
Sonia Samuels (GBR) 2:28:04
Freya Ross (GBR) 2:28:10
Alyson Dixon (GBR) 2:29:30
Louise Damen (GBR) 2:30:00
Susan Partridge (GBR) 2:30:46
Irvette Van Blerk (RSA) 2:31:26
Cassie Fien (AUS) 2:38:53
Jess Coulson (GBR) debut
Charlotte Purdue (GBR) debut
Quick Take #1: Make no mistake, Mary Keitany is the favorite
This field is ridiculous, but Keitany is even more ridiculous. Here are Keitany’s finishes in every race of her professional career, per All-Athletics.com:
1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1, 7, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1, 4, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1
That’s a lot of 1’s. In case you’re too lazy to count, she’s won 30 of her 40 career races, good for a .750 winning percentage that is unheard of in road racing. And Keitany doesn’t just beat up on scrubs: those victories include three at the RAK Half and two each at Great North Run and London/NYC Marathons.
The point we’re trying to make: when Keitany shows up to a race, history says she’s three times more likely to win than not. That doesn’t apply in all cases — Keitany’s odds are higher in a stacked race like London and lower in a race with less competition — but it’s not wise to bet against Keitany. In our NYC preview last fall, we wrote: “the most likely outcome is that she does not win on Sunday. That’s not a knock on Keitany, but rather a reflection of the field she faces — there are simply so many strong athletes that betting any one of them against the field is not logical.”
Of course, Keitany went out and blasted everyone four days later. Are Keitany’s odds of winning London greater than 50%? Probably not. But we wouldn’t want to have money against her.
Quick Take #2: The road to Rio goes through London
You can make a strong case that, right now, the Kenyan and Ethiopian Olympic teams should consist solely of women running London. If you go by our 2015 rankings, the top three Kenyans (Keitany, Cherono and Kiplagat) and top three Ethiopians (Dibaba, Mergia and Tufa) are all in the London field. While this makes for a compelling race, it could also end up hurting the Olympic chances of some of those women.
Obviously, a strong run by any of those women (first or second in London) is going to help their case for Olympic selection. But you can do the math: we just mentioned six names (and that’s not even including women like Jemima Sumgong or Priscah Jeptoo), which means that some very accomplished runners are going to finish outside the top three. Say Cherono finishes fourth behind Keitany, Dibaba and Tufa. How does Athletics Kenya weigh that result against a victory in Tokyo or Boston by a Kenyan athlete? What if we get a repeat of 2015, where London goes slow and Dubai goes fast (Tufa’s 2:23:22 winning time last year would have placed 9th in Dubai)? Will the Ethiopian Athletic Federation take that into account?
Some years, 4th in London is worth more than 1st in Tokyo. Some years it’s not. Picking a three-person marathon squad for a country like Kenya or Ethiopia is never going to be easy, but we hope the governing bodies for those respective nations try their best to weigh each race against each other rather than adhering to rigid criteria.
Of course, if an athlete running London doesn’t make the Olympics, they can take solace in the fact that the degree of difficulty required to win the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon is going to be very similar to what it takes to win the 2016 Rio Olympics. Rio likely will be a little deeper than 2016 London as in addition to 6 stars from Kenya/Ethiopia the Olympics will have some 2:21-3 runners (like Shalane Flangan, Desi Linden, who might be capable of picking up a bronze medal in less than ideal conditions, but Rio likely won’t have many more legitimate contenders for gold. In the last two years, no women from outside Kenya or Ethiopia has broken 2:21:00 and only four women not from Ethiopia or Kenya have broken 2:23:00.
In 2012, we called the 2012 Olympic women’s marathon the greatest women’s field ever assembled as it featured five women with pbs under 2:20 who weren’t well past their primes (with the benefit of hindsight, we are ignoring drug cheat Liliya Shobukhova) and 2016 London has five as well with three more who have run under 2:21:00.
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Quick Take #3: Will Florence Kiplagat finally get the London monkey off her back?
Florence Kiplagat is already one of the finest runners of her generation, a world champion in cross country and the half marathon, the latter a distance at which she owns the world record (65:09, set last year). She’s also won three World Marathon Majors: Berlin (2011, 2013) and Chicago (2015). One prize that has eluded her, however, is the title of London Marathon champion. Kiplagat debuted in the marathon in the fall of 2011 and every spring since then has come to London only to fall short. She was 4th in her first effort in 2012, 6th in 2013, 2nd in 2014 and 5th last year. That runner-up finish was the most agonizing, as she was level with fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat with 200 to go, only for Edna to outsprint her and win by three seconds. Coming off a victory in Chicago, Florence will hope fifth time’s the charm in London, but with the field assembled this year, she has a tough task in front of her.
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