Can Anyone Beat Keitany or Dibaba in London? Brigid Kosgei Is Primed for a Breakout, Vivian Cheruiyot Is a Full-Time Marathoner

By Jonathan Gault
April 20, 2018

LONDON — As LRC’s “man on the ground” in London (sorry, the weather has been too nice over here for me to wear boots), my first three days in the British capital have been spent bouncing around a galaxy of stars, from Mo Farah on Tuesday to Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba on Wednesday to Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele on Thursday.

Friday was decidedly lower key, which gives me a chance to take a look at some of the lesser stars who could win Sunday’s races and below I take a look at the women besides Mary Keitany or Tirunesh Dibaba who could win.

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In case you’ve been away from the running scene for a while Keitany and Dibaba are squaring off and possibly targeting Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record. They’re the heavy, heavy favorites and you can read about them here.

I also caught up with the top American threats in each race, Sam Chelanga and Stephanie Bruce, who you can read about here, and the other men’s hopefuls here.

First, let’s run through a few of the essential details about Sunday’s race in case you’re unfamiliar.

What: 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon
When: Sunday, April 22, 2018. Women’s elite race starts at 9:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m. ET); men’s elite race starts at 10:00 a.m. (5:00 a.m. ET)
Where: London, England
How to watch (U.S. viewers): Live on NBC Sports Network or streaming via NBC Sports Gold. Coverage begins at 3:30 a.m. ET.
How to watch (UK viewers): Race will be live on BBC One from 8:30 a.m. BST.

Previous LRC 2018 London marathon coverage: LRC In London, Day 1: Mo Farah Wants The British Record — And Potentially A Lot More — As He Returns to the Marathon * LRC Breaking 2:15:25: Can the Women’s World Record Go Down at the London Marathon? An LRC Examination * LRC A Marathon for the Ages in London? Eliud Kipchoge vs. Kenenisa Bekele Has the Potential to Be an All-Timer; Plus More From Men’s Media Day

Full LRC coverage * Race website * Course map

Abbott World Marathon Majors

London will serve as the culmination of Series XI of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which began with last year’s London Marathon. Four athletes can claim the outright series title with a victory: Mary Keitany (London champ), Tirunesh Dibaba (Chicago champ), Gladys Cherono (Berlin champ), and Rose Chelimo (world champ). Brigid Kosgei can also clinch a share of the title with a win; currently Keitany and Dibaba are tied at the top with 41 points. Remember, it’s now $250,000 for the series victory, $50,000 for second, and $25,000 for third (previously, it was $500,000 for first and nothing for second or third).

Women’s elite field

Name Country PB Comment
Mary Keitany Kenya 2:17:01 Ran 2nd-fastest time ever to win last year & clocked HM pb of 64:55 in Feb
Tirunesh Dibaba Ethiopia 2:17:56 2:17 in London and 2:18 in Chicago made her LRC’s World #1 in ’17
Gladys Cherono Kenya 2:19:25 Two-time Berlin champ, but London is a big step up in competition
Mare Dibaba Ethiopia 2:19:52 ’15 world champ/’16 Oly bronze; 8th at Worlds in only marathon last yr
Brigid Kosgei Kenya 2:20:22 Huge potential. 2nd to Dibaba in Chicago, then 2:22 CR on tough Honolulu course
Tigist Tufa Ethiopia 2:21:52 1st in ’15, 2nd behind doper Sumgong in ’16, but only 8th last year
Tadelech Bekele Ethiopia 2:21:54 Won Amsterdam last year in #3 time ever on that course
Rose Chelimo Bahrain 2:22:51 Last trip to London was a success as she beat strong field to win Worlds
Vivian Cheruiyot Kenya 2:23:35 Olympic champ on the track, she won Frankfurt in Oct.
Stephanie Bruce USA 2:29:35 Will be looking for PR after taking 10th at NYC last year
Becky Wade USA 2:30:41 10th at Chicago last year; 41st at World Half champs in March
Tracy Barlow Great Britain 2:30:42 16th last year; coming off 72:35 HM pb at World Half
Lily Partridge Great Britain 2:32:09 4th in Seville in her debut last year
Liz Costello USA 2:38:21 Former Princeton star was 18th in Boston last year in debut
Rebecca Murray Great Britain debut 72:59 half marathoner making debut at age 23

Since I already took a detailed look at Keitany and Dibaba here, I’m going focus on the rest of the field below.

The Two Other Women Who Could Win the Outright AWMM Series Title

Gladys Cherono Wins 2017 BMW Berlin Marathon

Gladys Cherono wins 2017 BMW Berlin Marathon

Gladys Cherono — Kenya, 34 years old, 2:19:25 pb (2015 Berlin), 66:07 half
Last two marathons: 5th 2017 Boston (2:27:20), 1st 2017 Berlin (2:20:23)
Prep race: 67:13 for 8th at RAK Half on February 9

Rose Chelimo — Bahrain, 28 years old, 2:22:51 pb (2017 Boston), 68:08 half
Last two marathons: 2nd 2017 Boston (2:22:51), 1st 2017 Worlds (2:27:11)
Prep race: 70:20 for 14th at World Half Champs on March 24

Both Cherono and Chelimo come into London off of major marathon victories — Berlin for Cherono, and Worlds for Chelimo. While neither is likely to challenge the top two, Cherono has better odds to spring the upset. Chelimo does have warm weather experience as she beat a solid field to win Worlds in London last summer, but Cherono has a very fast PR (2:19:25, #9 all-time), and in a marathon where the winning time is likely to be very fast, that’s important.

Neither looked incredible at their prep races — Cherono lost to Keitany at RAK by over two minutes — but they remain world-class talents. But even that not may be enough to contend against the likes of Keitany and Dibaba.

The Olympic 5,000 Champ

Vivian Cheruiyot — Kenya, 34 years old, 2:23:35 pb (2017 Frankfurt), 67:44 half
Last two marathons: 4th 2017 London (2:23:50), 1st 2017 Frankfurt (2:23:35)
Prep race: DNF at NYC Half on March 18 (cited cold-induced asthma as the reason)

Cheruiyot is officially a full-time marathoner now as the five-time global champ on the track says she has run her last track race. She did very well in her debut in London last year under less than ideal circumstances. Keitany’s decision to put the field to the sword early meant that the chase pack went out way faster than anticipated, and Cheruiyot decided to try to hang with the chase pack rather than run on her own. Despite very uneven splits (67:42-76:08), Cheruiyot managed to hold on to finish 4th in 2:23:50. Cheruiyot showed she was capable of more by lowering her PR by 17 seconds to win Frankfurt last year and enters London far more prepared than last year. It would still be unwise to try to hang with the top two, but Cheruiyot has the talent to beat everyone else and run a substantial PR.

Poised for a Breakthrough?

PHOTO: 2017 Honolulu Marathon champions Brigid Kosgei and Lawrence Cherono (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Kosgei after smashing the CR in Honolulu last year (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Brigid Kosgei — Kenya, 24 years old, 2:20:22 pb (2017 Chicago), 66:35 half
Last three marathons: 
8th 2017 Boston (2:31:48), 2nd 2017 Chicago (2:20:22), 1st 2017 Honolulu (2:22:15)
Prep race: 66:49 for 7th at RAK Half on February 9

Aside from her major debut in Boston last year, where she finished 8th, the 24-year-old Kosgei has finished first or second in her remaining six career marathons. It’s her two most recent races that stick out, however, and suggest that she could become a future star in the event. First was Chicago, where she ran 2:20:22. Since Paula Radcliffe set her world record in Chicago in 2002, only two women have run faster than Kosgei’s 2:20:22 on the Chicago course. One was doper Rita Jeptoo in 2013; the other was Tirunesh Dibaba last year. Her next marathon in Honolulu was arguably more impressive. Just nine weeks after Chicago, she clocked 2:22:15 on the hilly Honolulu layout to repeat as champion and crush the course record by over five minutes.

Kosgei is essentially the male equivalent of Lawrence Cherono — an athlete with sparkling results but no major victories — and unfortunately, the same questions apply as Kosgei is represented by Rosa & Associati (also worth noting: the Honolulu CR that she crushed in December formerly belonged to Russia’s Lyubov Denisova, who tested positive four months later and served a two-year ban).

The American Leader: Stephanie Bruce

(We profile Bruce and Sam Chelanga here. Keep reading below if you’re only interested in Bruce.)

Stephanie Bruce — USA, 34 years old, 2:29:34 pb (2011 Houston), 70:53 half
Last three marathons: 
2nd 2016 CIM (2:32:37), 10th 2017 New York City (2:31:44)
Prep races: 72:31 for 1st at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half on 1/14; 33:35 for 3rd at USA XC champs on 2/3; 72:02 for 2nd at Gasparilla Half on 2/25

All the signs point toward a strong race and a personal best on Sunday for Bruce, who will be carrying the flag for the U.S. contingent here (which also includes Becky Wade and Liz Costello). Bruce missed a chunk of her prime with back-to-back pregnancies (son Riley was born in June 2014; another son, Hudson, was born in September 2015), but she has steadily worked her way back to form since then and now, at 34, looks ready to challenge the 2:29:34 pb she set in Houston seven years ago. Her prep races have gone well, the most impressive among them a third-place finish at USA XC where she crushed steeple World Championship silver medalist Courtney Frerichs by 21 seconds and finished behind only Emily Infeld and Molly Seidel, two strong 5k/10k athletes who had the luxury of not having to prepare to run a marathon two months later.

“After US Cross, Molly turned around, and she was like, Steph, who are you?” Bruce said, laughing. “But Molly’s so young. She rents a room from our house (when she trains in Flagstaff) . I’m like, Well Molly, I used to be good at running. It’s okay that I was that close to you.

Bruce said her aim is to go out with the 2:28 pace group and hopes that she’ll be able to run some people down if others go too fast or struggle with the heat.

Bruce also gave some insight into what the drug-testing setup is like at the London Marathon. That part of the interview begins at the 6:20 mark.

For more on Bruce, she did a Q&A with Race Results Weekly’s David Monti, which you can read here: RRW Q&A With Steph Bruce And Ben Rosario Ahead Of Virgin Money London Marathon

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