London Marathon M Preview: Who Will Win a Deep Race with No Clear Favorite?

By Jonathan Gault
September 30, 2022

LONDON — In recent years, we’ve at times called the TCS London Marathon the Super Bowl of marathons. Perhaps a better term would be it’s the Wimbledon of the majors – the most prestigious of the majors.

That being said, the elite men’s race at the London Marathon has taken some hits over the last few months. It began with the withdrawal of world champion Tamirat Tola (2:03:39 pb) in August, and continued last week when Mosinet Geremew (2:02:55 pb, #4 all-time) and 2020 and 2021 London runner-up Vincent Kipchumba (2:04:28 pb) scratched. Finally, on Wednesday, Mo Farah (2:05:11 pb), set to run his first marathon for three years, dropped out with a hip injury. It’s hard to remember a race as snakebitten as London 2022 (and I haven’t even mentioned the women, where world record holder Brigid Kosgei had to withdraw).

This being London, however, the field is still amazingly good. Despite all of those withdrawals, the field still features six men with pbs under 2:04:00 – yes six, the most ever in a single marathon.

Kenenisa Bekele, still plugging along at age 40, is here. So is Birhanu Legese (2:02:48 pb, #3 all-time). Sisay Lemma is back to defend his title, and Belgium’s Bashir Abdi, the Olympic and world bronze medalist, is seeking his first major marathon victory.

Who’s going to win? That’s what we’re here to figure out.

What: 2022 TCS London Marathon
When: Sunday, October 2
Where: London, England
How to watch: In the USA, Canada, and Australia, FloTrack has the rights to the race. In the UK, the race will air on BBC2 from 8:30-9:25 a.m. with coverage switching to BBC1 from 9:25 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. You can find all international rightsholders here. If you need a VPN, the one we use at is NordVPN. Click here to get a free 30-day trial.

Start times
Elite women: 9:00 a.m. BST (4:00 a.m. US EDT)
Elite men: 9:40 a.m. BST (4:40 a.m. US EDT)

Top entrants (full elite field)

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Name Country PB Note
Kenenisa Bekele Ethiopia 2:01:41 3 years since his last great marathon. Withdrew from Boston in April
Birhanu Legese Ethiopia 2:02:48 Has struggled with injuries of late but is incredible at his best
Amos Kipruto Kenya 2:03:13 2nd behind Kipchoge in Tokyo in April in 2:03:13
Bashir Abdi Belgium 2:03:36 Bronze at ’21 Olympics & ’22 Worlds
Sisay Lemma Ethiopia 2:03:36 Defending champ was DNF in Boston in spring
Kinde Atanaw Ethiopia 2:03:51 2:03 debut at ’19 Valencia but has done little since
Naoki Okamoto Japan 2:08:04 Coming off pb in Osaka in Feb
Naoki Aiba Japan 2:08:44 Coming off pb at Beppu-Oita in Feb
Kohei Futaoka Japan 2:09:15 37th at ’19 Worlds
Brett Robinson Australia 2:10:55
59:57 half marathoner has struggled with cramps during marathon career
Weyney Ghebresilasie Great Britain 2:12:17 Ran pb to take 10th in Rotterdam in April
Mohamud Aadan Great Britain 2:12:20 30th at Euro champs in August
Phil Sesemann Great Britain 2:12:58 17th at Euro champs in August
Yoann Kowal France debut Best known as a steepler (5th at ’16 Olympics)

The winner on Sunday is going to be one of six men: Kenenisa Bekele, Birhanu Legese, Amos Kipruto, Bashir Abdi, Sisay Lemma, or Kinde Atanaw. Those are the six guys in the field who have run 2:03 or faster in their careers. Considering no one else in London has broken 2:08, it’s a safe bet that one of them makes it to the finish on the Mall before everyone else.

Determining which one is not nearly as simple as there is no overwhelming favorite. So here’s a way to look at the top guys broken down by pairs.

If you want to bet on talent…

Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia, 2:01:41 pb (2019 Berlin)
Birhanu Legese, Ethiopia, 2:02:48 pb (2019 London)

(Bob Martin for London Marathon Events)

There is no doubting the talent of Bekele or Legese, the two fastest marathoners alive not named Eliud Kipchoge. The problem is their health — and in Bekele’s case, perhaps his age.

Bekele, 40, has run just four races since his 2:01:41 win at 2019 Berlin. His marathon career has been a constant battle against injuries and motivation, but the highs — two tremendous wins in Berlin in 2016 and 2019, both following fallow periods — are so sensational that he can never be totally discounted.

Last fall, Bekele surprisingly signed up for — and more surprisingly, completed — two marathons, running 2:06:47 for 3rd in Berlin (on a hot day) and 2:12:52 for 6th in New York six weeks later. He followed that by withdrawing from Boston earlier this year after an injury setback in training, but, encouragingly, he was able to finish the Great North Run three weeks ago, running 61:01 for 3rd. At the very least, that run shows Bekele is healthy and (somewhat) fit. His agent Jos Hermens told LetsRun Bekele did not taper for the race, but that he was hoping to run a faster time.

Come back to on Friday as I’ll have more on Bekele after he speaks to the press in London on Friday.

(Update: Here is that feature: Does Bekele break Kipchoge’s London record? Update: Bekele tells Letsrun he still wants the WR.)

(Jed Leicester for Virgin Money London Marathon)

As for Legese, a few years ago he was the #2 marathoner in the world behind Kipchoge, sandwiching a 2:02:48 run in London (second-fastest ever on the course behind Kipchoge) with a pair of victories in Tokyo. The last two years have not gone as well. He was just 5th in London last year in 2:06:10 and dropped out of Boston in April after struggling with the hills.

His agent Daan van den Berg believes the 28-year-old Legese is capable of recapturing the form of his best years and that he’s had a solid buildup. Can he turn things around in London? Even van den Berg isn’t sure.

“When he was running 2:02 and 2:03, he was also mentally really strong because he knew what he was capable of and he was performing really steadily,” van den Berg says. “And now he’s got to rediscover himself. So let’s see how he does on Sunday. It’s difficult to predict.”

If you want to bet on form…

Amos Kipruto, Kenya, 2:03:13 pb (2022 Tokyo)
Bashir Abdi, Belgium, 2:03:36 pb (2021 Rotterdam)

Embed from Getty Images

Kipruto and Abdi are the only two men in the elite field who actually ran well in their last marathon. Kipruto, who trains in Kapsabet with 2021 Boston champ Benson Kipruto (running Chicago next week), has finished on the podium in seven of his 12 career marathons, including majors like Worlds, Berlin, and Tokyo (twice). Most recently, he was 2nd in Tokyo in March in a pb of 2:03:13 — a race in which he lost around 10 seconds when the lead pack took a wrong turn.

Kipruto has only raced once since then, winning the Gothenburg Half Marathon in May in 60:50, but his agent Gianni Demadonna says a performance similar to his run in Tokyo would not surprise him on Sunday.

“He’s in quite in the same shape when he ran 2:03 in Tokyo,” Demadonna says. “He had a long time to recover and prepare for London. He’s ready to run well.”

Abdi raced much more recently, taking bronze at the World Championships in Eugene on July 17. He admitted it was tough resuming training and was worried he was going to run out of time getting in shape for London, but said things turned around for him at training camp in Font Romeu and he’s in a much better spot now.

“Things got back to normal the last five weeks,” Abdi says.

It’s also worth noting that Abdi was able to go from bronze at the Olympics to a 2:03:36 pb in Rotterdam in 11 weeks last fall — the exact same gap he’ll have this year between Worlds and London. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him on top of the podium on Sunday.

Abdi trained with Mo Farah throughout his buildup, so when I spoke to him on Thursday I had to ask for his thoughts on Farah’s future in the sport. Even though Farah turns 40 in March, Abdi was optimistic that Farah will race again in 2023 and believes his best days in the marathon could still be ahead of him.

“The shape he was now in France, I think he was better shape than when he won in Chicago in 2018,” Abdi says.

If you want to bet on a wild card…

Kinde Atanaw, Ethiopia, 2:03:51 pb (2019 Valencia)
Sisay Lemma, Ethiopia, 2:03:36 pb (2019 Berlin)

Of the “Big Six” in London, Atanaw is the least likely to win. He debuted with a 2:03:51 win in Valencia three years ago but since then has broken 2:09 just once and has failed to finish in the top five in all four marathons he’s started, including a 10th-place finish in Boston in April. That 2:03 pb means he cannot be totally ignored, but he’s a longshot to win on Sunday.

Lemma has a much better shot. Obviously, he’s the defending champion, which came as a bit of a surprise — athletes don’t often earn their first major victory in their 22nd marathon start, but after nine years and podium finishes in Berlin, Tokyo, and London, Lemma broke away with just over two miles to go to claim the victory in 2:04:01.

(Bob Martin for Virgin Money London Marathon)

Lemma didn’t get to celebrate in London — because he was a close contact of a positive COVID case, he could not participate in post-race activities and his agent Gianni Demadonna had to stand in for him on the victory podium. But he was feted upon his return to Ethiopia by family and friends and invested some of his prize money into buying a mall-type building in Sendafa where he lives.

When he returned to the marathon, in Boston in the spring, Lemma was forced to drop out, the result of a nagging calf injury.

“It did affect my preparation (for Boston), it was shorter than it should have been,” Lemma said through translator (and two-time British Olympian) Richard Nerurkar. “Because I didn’t do the right training, I couldn’t finish the race.”

This summer and fall, however, Lemma says his training has gone better than it did before his London victory last year. Will that be enough for a repeat victory?

JG prediction: Bekele and Legese haven’t been consistent enough for me to pick them, and while Abdi and Lemma are tempting, I’m going to roll with Amos Kipruto, who is coming off a big race this spring and has supposedly had a strong buildup. In a field with no certainties, he’s the guy I feel the best about on Sunday.

Who do you think will win? Vote in our poll and talk about it on our world-famous messageboar

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MB: London Marathon men’s predictions. Jonathan Gault says the 2022 London winner will be…..

More: Kenenisa Bekele: “[2:01:41] Is Not Enough. I Want More” In a one-on-one exclusive with, Bekele reveals that even at 40 he’s motivated by the marathon world record, but even he knows it won’t come in Sunday’s London Marathon. *MB: Does Bekele break Kipchoge’s London record? Update: Bekele tells Letsrun he still wants the WR.

*Full 2022 London Marathon Coverage with full race previews, tv and streaming information, etc.

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