August 1, 2017
You won’t find a deeper marathon on planet Earth this year than the women’s race at the 2017 World Championships. Yes, April’s London Marathon, held on these same streets four months ago, had more star power, but even that race — one which could well have featured the greatest field in the history of women’s marathoning — did not boast 10 sub-2:22 women as Worlds does. Three of those women, in fact, have broken 2:20, led by Edna Kiplagat, who won April’s Boston Marathon and, at 37, will be going for a record third World Championship gold.
Kiplagat is far from the only big name in the field, however. Olympic bronze medalist Mare Dibaba is back to defend her world title, and she’ll take on Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain, whom we view as the rightful Olympic champ considering was second behind doper Jemima Sumgong in Rio. Both Dibaba and Kirwa are big-time championship performers as both medalled at 2015 Worlds and the 2016 Olympics. The Americans have a medal threat as well in Amy Cragg (9th at the Olympics) though she’ll have to run a nearly perfect race given the quality of her opposition.
We run down the top contenders and preview the race below.
What: 2017 IAAF World Championship women’s marathon
When: Sunday, August 6, 9:00 a.m. ET (2 pm local). The men’s and women’s marathon are being run on the same day but at different times (the men’s race is at 5:55 a.m. ET (10:55 local)).
Where: London, England
The course is a mostly out-and-back 10k loop running along the north bank of the River Thames from the start/finish area at Tower Bridge down to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, which will be run four times. You can watch a cool visualization of the course below or check out the course map here.
Abbott World Marathon Majors
Worlds is one of seven Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM) events (Tokyo, Boston, London, Worlds, Berlin, Chicago, New York). The current series, Series XI, began at this year’s London Marathon and concludes with the 2018 London Marathon. At the end of the series, the athlete with the most points wins the $250,000 grand prize with second taking $50,000 and third $25,000. Scoring is 25 points for a win, 16 for 2nd, 9 for 3rd, 4 for 4th and 1 for 5th. Only two races can count in a given series.
The current women’s leader (remember, there’s only been one race) is Kenya’s Mary Keitany, who won London. Keitany isn’t running Worlds, however, as she’s going back to New York to defend her title.
Per Weather.com, as of Monday, the long-term forecast has a high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 57 on Sunday, with 11 mph winds out of the southwest. That wind is not insignificant as the runners will be exposed along the river and runs roughly southwest/northeast. So on each loop, the runners will have a headwind on the way out but a tailwind on the way back. Though there will be some humidity (69%), there should be much better conditions than the last World Champs, which were run in the sweltering heat and humidity of Beijing.
Notable entrants (full field here)
|Aselefech Mergia||Ethiopia||2:19:31||Has won Dubai 3x and London 1x; 3rd in London in April|
|Edna Kiplagat||Kenya||2:19:50||Two-time world champ is 37 but just won Boston in April|
|Mare Dibaba||Ethiopia||2:19:52||Defending champ earned bronze in Rio but dropped out in London in April|
|Shure Demise||Ethiopia||2:20:59||Has won last 2 Toronto Marathons; 2nd in Dubai in January|
|Eunice Kirwa||Bahrain||2:21:17||Rightful Olympic champ was 2nd behind doper Sumgong in Rio|
|Birhane Dibaba||Ethiopia||2:21:19||Still only 23, she set a PR to finish 2nd in Tokyo in February|
|Flomena Cheyech Daniel||Kenya||2:21:22||Commonwealth Games champion coming off PR in Paris|
|Helah Kiprop||Kenya||2:21:27||Came one second shy of gold in ’15; 7th in London in April|
|Yuka Ando||Japan||2:21:36||Ran PR to finish 2nd in Nagoya in March|
|Amane Gobena||Ethiopia||2:21:51||2nd and 3rd in Tokyo last 2 years|
|Rose Chelimo||Bahrain||2:22:51||8th in Rio, 2nd in Boston in April|
|Risa Shigetomo||Japan||2:23:23||14th in ’15; won Osaka Marathon in January|
|Mao Kiyota||Japan||2:23:47||23-year-old coming off PR in Nagoya|
|Eunice Chumba||Bahrain||2:24:27||Had never broken 2:30 until October but has run 2:25/2:24 in last 2 races|
|Serena Burla||USA||2:26:53||10th at Worlds in ’15; coming off PR in Osaka in January|
|Amy Cragg||USA||2:27:03||Olympic Trials champ was 9th in Rio|
|Alyson Dixon||Great Britain||2:29:06||38-year-old was top Brit at London Marathon in 14th|
|Lindsay Flanagan||USA||2:29:28||Followed up her 4-min PR in Frankfurt by finishing 11th at ’17 Boston|
The Big Three
If we gave a complete summation of every woman who could medal in this race, this preview would be 6,000 words. But we know you’ve got races to watch (and, hopefully, other previews to read), so we’ll try to keep this one short. Below, we give you the three women most likely to win the race. Below that, we’ll take a look at America’s best hope, Amy Cragg, before running through a few of the other notable entrants.
Edna Kiplagat — Kenya, 37 years old, 2:19:50 pb (2012 London), 67:41 half
Recent marathons: 1st 2017 Boston (2:21:52), 2nd 2016 Chicago (2:23:28), 3rd 2016 Tokyo (2:22:36)
Kiplagat has been racing at an elite level for over 20 years — her first major international competition was the junior race at World XC in 1996 — but she’s shown no signs of slowing down as she’s finished second in Chicago and first in Boston in her two marathons since turning 37 last September. Throughout her distinguished career — this will be career marathon #18 — Kiplagat has excelled in both fast and slow marathons. Her 2:19:50 pb is the second-fastest in the field, and she set that in London back in 2012 when it took a 2:18 from Mary Keitany to beat her. The British capital has been kind to Kiplagat throughout her career, as she finished second in the London Marathon every year from 2011 to 2013 before finally winning it in 2014. The only bad trip to London during that time was Kiplagat’s run at the 2012 Olympics, where she had an off day and struggled to 19th place.
But that result is the exception, not the norm, for Kiplagat, especially when it comes to championship-style races. She won Worlds in 2011 in Daegu and two years later in Moscow became the first woman to defend her world title, joining countrywoman Catherine Ndereba as the only women to claim two crowns overall. If Kiplagat can add a hat trick in London, she’d become the first athlete, male or female, to win three world titles in the marathon.
And there’s a decent chance that comes to pass. The Boston field wasn’t nearly as strong as London this year, but it’s still a major marathon and Kiplagat was by far the best woman on the day as she won by a massive 59 seconds — the largest margin of victory in Boston since 2005 and the eighth-fastest time ever run on the course. Given her pedigree, recent form and championship experience, Kiplagat has a good shot to land among the medals and perhaps win the whole thing on Sunday.
Mare Dibaba — Ethiopia, 27 years old, 2:19:52 pb (2012 Dubai/2015 Xiamen), 67:13 half
Recent marathons: DNF 2017 London, 3rd 2016 Olympics (2:24:30), 6th 2016 London (2:24:09)
Dibaba’s last trip to London did not go well: after going out on 2:15 pace through 10 kilometers, she cratered badly and dropped out after 30k. Dibaba was not the only woman to fare poorly (there was a five-minute gap between second and third as a ton of women blew up) but it’s not the ideal way to go into a World Championship. Unfortunately for Dibaba, that’s the reality as she hasn’t raced in the four months since.
But we’re willing to overlook one poor performance in London (and again, it’s worth noting that she went out on 2:15 pace) as Dibaba put together a terrific stretch of marathons from 2014 to 2016 that included two wins in Xiamen, a win in Chicago, a world title, two top-threes in Boston, an Olympic bronze and a sub-2:20. Here’s the full list:
As a result, Dibaba has finished 2nd, 1st and 8th in our last three world rankings. We expect her to battle for the win once again in London as her last two championship races have gone exceptionally well: a win at Worlds and a bronze at the Olympics that should really be a silver considering she lost to doper Jemima Sumgong. Dibaba made history in Beijing two years ago by becoming the first Ethiopian woman to win the World Champs marathon; now she has the chance to join Kiplagat and become just the second woman ever to defend her title.
Eunice Kirwa — Bahrain, 33 years old, 2:21:17 pb (2017 Nagoya), 66:46 half
Recent marathons: 1st 2017 Nagoya (2:21:17), 2nd 2016 Olympics (2:24:13), 1st 2016 Nagoya (2:22:40)
Dibaba was brilliant from 2014 to 2016, but no woman enters Worlds on a hotter streak than Eunice Kirwa. In Kirwa’s last trip to Worlds in 2015, she wound up with the silver medal, just four seconds back of Dibaba. That was also the only race she lost from April 2014 to April 2017. Okay, technically she lost two, but the only other was last year’s Olympic marathon, where she was second behind doper Jemima Sumgong.
Kirwa had talent at a young age — she was 5th at World Youths way back in 1999 — but she didn’t do much on the professional level until 2012 at age 28, when she ran a 68:29 half followed by a 2:21 marathon in Amsterdam. She’s gradually improved since then and is now one of the very best in the world in the marathon, with no performance more impressive than her Olympic silver last year. She’s continued to run well post-Rio as well. In February, she won her second straight Marugame Half Marathon in Japan in 68:07, just one second off her PR. The next month, she ran a marathon PR of 2:21:17 to win her third straight Nagoya Marathon — the fastest 2017 time by anyone in this field. Then in April, she slashed over a minute off her half marathon pb by clocking an Asian record of 66:46 to take second in Istanbul.
That’s right. Kirwa just one an Olympic silver and has gotten better. Still, with several quality women in this field, she’s no lock for gold. In particular, she’s had good battles with Dibaba at 2015 Worlds (Dibaba won by four seconds) and the 2016 Olympics (Kirwa won by 17 seconds) and we expect both of them to push each other for 26.2 miles along the Thames this weekend.
The American Hope
Amy Cragg — USA, 33 years old, 2:27:03 pb (2011 Los Angeles/2014 Chicago), 68:27 half
Recent marathons: 9th 2016 Olympics (2:28:25), 1st 2016 Olympic Trials (2:28:27)
Like Kirwa, Cragg ran well at the Olympics last year and looks to have improved since then. Cragg was 9th in Rio which, had it not been for her teammates Shalane Flanagan and Desi Linden, would have been the best performance by an American woman since Deena Kastor‘s bronze in 2004. Cragg’s next goal will be to become the first U.S. woman to medal in the marathon at Worlds since Marianne Dickerson‘s silver at the inaugural edition in 1983.
That is a tall order. As well as Cragg ran in Rio, she was still 3:55 behind third place and her 2:27:03 PR is just 22nd among entrants at Worlds. She will need to run the race of her life in London to have a shot at a medal.
With that said, Cragg does have several things working in her favor. Her 2:27:03 PR is misleading as she was in her best marathon shape in 2016 but ran two hot-weather championship races. Given her 68:27 HM PR — which Cragg ran at the Marugame Half in February — she should be capable of something in the 2:23-2:24 range, which would put her closer to the medal hunt. Plus, Cragg showed that during the Olympic Trials and the Olympics themselves that she can handle the heat well. The conditions in London won’t be as tough, but they won’t be easy: the women’s race is an afternoon start (2 p.m. local time), exceedingly rare for a major marathon, which means that it should be close to the high of 70 degrees during race time. That could help Cragg, but remember that Dibaba and Kirwa both medalled at Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016 so they will be used to the heat as well.
As we said, a medal will take some luck as well as a great race by Cragg. Her best-case scenario may be for one or more women up front to go out too hard, allowing Cragg to swoop in for the bronze by running more even splits. A secondary goal for Cragg would be to finish in the top six — something no American woman has done at Worlds since Dickerson’s medal 34 years ago. That’s well within her range.
Best of the Rest/Americans
- Aselefech Mergia, Ethiopia, 32 years old (2:19:31 pb): Mergia won bronze in this race way back in 2009 and has the fastest PR in the field (though it dates from 2012). Still, she ran well in her last trip to England as she was third at the London Marathon in April, holding on to run 2:23:08 after a suicidal 67:54 opening half (for reference, Mergia’s PR is 67:21).
- Shure Demise, Ethiopia, 21 years old (2:20:59 pb): Demise ran 2:20 at 2015 Dubai just two days after turning 19 and she showed that was no fluke by winning the past two Toronto Marathons. She was the runner-up in Dubai in January, running 2:22, but she’s unproven in championship-style marathons.
- Birhane Dibaba, Ethiopia, 23 years old (2:21:19 pb): Officially, Dibaba is still only 23 years old but she’s run 12 career marathons and has never finished lower than 4th. In fact, apart from her debut in Barcelona in 2012, she’s been 3rd or better in every single marathon, including a win in Tokyo in 2015 and, most recently, back-to-back 2nds in Berlin and Tokyo. The latter came in a PR of 2:21:19, which puts her 7th on this year’s world list (and is the #2 SB among women in London).
- Helah Kiprop, Kenya, 32 years old (2:21:27 pb): Kiprop missed out on gold by one second two years ago and followed up that run with a win in Tokyo last year. She also barely missed her HM pb by running 67:48 at the RAK Half this February. But her last two marathons have not gone well. She dropped out of the Olympics in Rio and in April’s London Marathon, Kiprop overcooked it, going 67:53/77:46 en route to a 2:25:39 7th-place finish.
- Flomena Cheyech Daniel, Kenya, 35 years old (2:21:22 pb): Daniel won the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and most recently set a 2:21:22 PR in Paris. Picking teams off Paris Marathon performances hasn’t always worked out for Athletics Kenya in the past, however, as they named 2016 Paris champ Visiline Jepkesho to the Olympic team only to see her finish 86th.
- Rose Chelimo, Bahrain, 28 years old (2:22:51 pb): Chelimo finished one spot in front of Amy Cragg in Rio last year and followed that up by taking second in Boston in April, knocking 1:23 off her PR to run 2:22:51. Chelimo also has nice versatility as she was 9th at World XC less than a month before her run in Boston.
- Serena Burla, USA, 35 years old (2:26:53 pb): Burla was 10th two years ago and has continued to string together solid marathons since then, taking 8th at the Olympic Trials, 7th at 2016 Chicago and, most recently, 4th in Osaka in a PR of 2:26:54. Even if Burla is fitter than two years ago, it won’t be easy to finish in the top 10 again as this year’s field is better than 2015’s.
- Lindsay Flanagan, USA, 26 years old (2:29:28 pb): Flanagan is at Worlds on the strength of her 2:29:28 in Frankfurt last year (a PR by four minutes), and she did well to finish as the thirdAmerican in Boston in April (11th overall) behind only Jordan Hasay and Desi Linden. Against this type of competition, she’s overmatched, however. Top 15 would be a good goal.
LRC prediction: 1. Kirwa 2. M. Dibaba 3. Kiplagat
Since we already separated those three women from the rest of the field, it should come as no surprise that they’re our medal picks (it helps that all three have medalled in at least two global championships). We’ll take Kirwa as she’s essentially the Olympic champion and has continued rolling ever since Rio. But Dibaba and Kiplagat have been just as good recently and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either of them atop the podium in London.
Talk about the marathon on our fan forum / messageboard: Agents, can someone tell me why so many studs from Africa sign up for the World Champs marathon each year?
Full Coverage including previews of all mid-d and distance events in our 2017 IAAF London Worlds Special Section.