Five Thoughts on the Incredible 2023 London Marathon Fields
By Jonathan Gault
February 2, 2023
The TCS London Marathon has announced its fields for the 2023 edition to be held on April 23, and as usual they are sensational. The women’s field features the reigning champions from London (Yalemzerf Yehualaw), Boston/Olympics (Peres Jepchirchir), Tokyo (Brigid Kosgei), Berlin (Tigist Assefa), and Amsterdam (Almaz Ayana). And we’re just getting started. It also features the two fastest Americans in history (Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato) and will serve as the marathon debut for Olympic 5,000/10,000 champion Sifan Hassan as well as Commonwealth 10,000 champ Eilish McColgan.
The debut of the mile WR holder Hassan gets its own article here: LRC Mile World Record Holder Sifan Hassan To Make Marathon Debut In London
The men’s race features four of the five fastest men in history, led by Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41 pb) and Kelvin Kiptum (2:01:53 pb) as well as defending champ Amos Kipruto, world champ Tamirat Tola, two-time NYC champ Geoffrey Kamworor, and British legend Mo Farah.
Even with Eliud Kipchoge in Boston, this year’s London Marathon is going to be a terrific event. Below, five thoughts on what I’m excited to see on April 23.
1. “Greatest women’s marathon field ever” (again)
Last month, when Boston announced its 2023 field, we proclaimed its women’s field as historically great. Boston’s field includes five sub-2:18 women, seven sub-2:19 women, and nine sub-2:20 women — which, at the time, were all either the most or tied for the most in history in a single race.
But we also knew London — which has the biggest elite budget of any major — could be even better. And it is.
London knows it has a great women’s field on its hands and is not shy about advertising it. The title of its official press release said “Greatest ever field assembled for elite women’s race” while race director Hugh Brasher said: “This is quite simply the greatest women’s field ever assembled for a marathon – arguably the greatest field ever assembled for a women’s distance race…It’s going to be a race the whole world will be anticipating and I can’t wait to see what happens.”
𝙏𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙜𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙨𝙝𝙤𝙬 🌟
— TCS London Marathon (@LondonMarathon) February 2, 2023
Calling the London Marathon women’s field the “greatest field ever” is a tradition at this point. Here’s a look at how we’ve described some recent London fields:
The reason why we can say these things is that women’s marathoning has continually improved over the last decade. This year’s Boston and London fields are particularly impressive on paper because women’s marathoning exploded last year, with 10 women breaking 2:18 and 27 breaking 2:19. They are still terrific fields, but it’s important to note that every major marathon field in 2023 is going to look better on paper because there are more 2:17 and 2:18 women competing than ever before.
Below is the same table we ran in our article analyzing the Boston field, with a column added for London. As you can see, London is even stronger than Boston up top, though Boston has more depth through 20 athletes.
|2023 London||2023 Boston||Previous Most In History|
|Sub-2:18 PB||5||5||4 (’21 Olympics)|
|Sub-2:19 PB||10||7||7 (’22 London)|
|Sub-2:20 PB||11||9||9 (’21 London)|
|Sub-2:21 PB||11||16||10 (’21 London)|
|Sub-2:22 PB||12||16||11 (’21 London)|
|Sub-2:23 PB||13||20||13 (’20 Valencia)|
|Sub-2:24 PB||15||22||15 (’20 Valencia)|
|Sub-2:25 PB||15||22||18 (’21 Olympics)|
The table also shows just how much the definition of a “fast time” has shifted in the women’s marathon. Before this year, there had never been any race featuring five sub-2:18 women on the start line. In April, we’ll get two in one week.
Even accounting for time inflation, I can’t wait to watch this race. A ton of women ran fast in 2022 but the best athletes weren’t always competing head to head: the nine fastest performances came in eight different races. Now we actually get to see some of these women face each other. Is Olympic champ Peres Jepchirchir, who has won her last five marathons but didn’t run one last fall, still the best in the world? Is world record holder Brigid Kosgei healthy and back to her best? Or will a marathon newcomer like Yalemzerf Yehualaw (who has won her two career marathons, both in 2:17) or Tigist Assefa take over?
Factor in Sifan Hassan‘s debut and the duel between Americans Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato and this is one of the most intriguing marathons in recent memory (and that’s before we even get to the men). Our one wish is that this race would also include Ruth Chepngetich — our World #1 from 2022 who almost broke the world record in Chicago — but perhaps that is being greedy. Instead, Chepngetich told Athletics Kenya she’s going back to Nagoya (March 12), where she’s the defending champ and where there is $250,000 in prize money on offer for first place.
Here’s where our top 11 from our 2022 world rankings are competing this spring:
|Athlete||Country||2023 spring marathon|
|1. Ruth Chepngetich||Kenya||Nagoya|
|2. Yalemzerf Yehualaw||Ethiopia||London|
|3. Amane Beriso||Ethiopia||Boston|
|4. Gotytom Gebreslase||Ethiopia||Boston|
|5. Tigist Assefa||Ethiopia||London|
|6. Brigid Kosgei||Kenya||London|
|7. Judith Korir||Kenya||London|
|8. Lonah Salpeter||Israel||Boston|
|9. Peres Jepchirchir||Kenya||London|
|10. Letesenbet Gidey||Ethiopia||None (running World XC)|
|11. Almaz Ayana||Ethiopia||London|
2. Sifan Hassan debuts
Few things build hype like marathon debuts, and with Hellen Obiri and Letesenbet Gidey both debuting last fall, Hassan is easily the biggest name in women’s long-distance running who has yet to run a marathon. But the best comparison here isn’t Obiri or Gidey. It’s Mo Farah. To see what I mean by that, read my Hassan article here: LRC Mile World Record Holder Sifan Hassan To Make Marathon Debut In London. The article includes insight from Hassan, whom I spoke with yesterday.
3. Emily Sisson & Keira D’Amato will test themselves against the world’s best (and each other)
Four years ago, Emily Sisson made her marathon debut in London. In that race, she finished 6th in 2:23:08 — four minutes and 48 seconds behind winner Brigid Kosgei.
Sisson has improved significantly since then. Last fall, she ran an American record of 2:18:29 in Chicago and on January 15 she set an American record of 66:52 at the Houston Half Marathon. She is one of America’s greatest-ever distance talents entering her prime.
But women’s marathoning as a whole has gotten a lot faster in the last four years as well. When Sisson debuted in London, the world record was Paula Radcliffe‘s 2:15:25 — the only time in history a woman had broken 2:17. Now the world record is Kosgei’s 2:14:04 and five women broke 2:17 in 2022 alone.
With Sisson and Keira D’Amato both running against London’s loaded field, we’ll get to see how the two fastest marathoners in American history stack up against the world’s best. When D’Amato set her American record in Houston last year, she won the race. When Sisson broke D’Amato’s record in Chicago, however, she finished four minutes and 11 seconds behind winner Ruth Chepngetich. How much (if any) will that gap have closed in six months?
Most likely, the leaders will go out trying to run something very fast — 2:16, maybe faster. It would be stunning if Sisson or D’Amato try to go with that. But if the leaders try to run even faster — 2:14 or 2:15 — Sisson and D’Amato could have a shot at the podium (a la Sara Hall in 2020) by running conservatively and capitalizing on the inevitable carnage.
4. The men’s field is historically fast, but is 2023 Boston even better?
Going by personal best, no field has ever been deeper up front than the 2023 London Marathon. There are two men in the field with sub-2:02 pbs, four with sub-2:03 pbs, seven with sub-2:04 pbs, and 10 with sub-2:05 pbs — all of which are the most ever for a single race. (Of course, there are also more sub-2:02, sub-2:03, sub-2:04, and sub-2:05 runners now than ever before).
|2023 London||Previous most in any marathon|
|Sub-2:02||2||1 (multiple races)|
|Sub-2:03||4||2 (2022 London)|
|Sub-2:04||7||6 (2022 London)|
|Sub-2:05||10||9 (multiple races)|
Personal best is just one way to analyze a field, however. Kenenisa Bekele‘s 2:01:41 pb may look sexy on paper, but the reality is, Bekele is 40 years old and more than three years removed from his last great marathon. Still, any way you slice it, the London field is pretty awesome as it features four of the top 10 marathoners from our 2022 world rankings — plus last year’s runner-up Leul Gebresilase, 2021 Chicago champ Seifu Tura, and three huge names in Bekele, Farah, and Geoffrey Kamworor.
Here’s where our top 10 from last year’s world rankings will be racing this spring:
|Athlete||Country||2023 spring marathon|
|1. Eliud Kipchoge||Kenya||Boston|
|2. Evans Chebet||Kenya||Boston|
|3. Amos Kipruto||Kenya||London|
|4. Tamirat Tola||Ethiopia||London|
|5. Benson Kipruto||Kenya||Boston|
|6. Mosinet Geremew||Ethiopia||London|
|7. Kelvin Kiptum||London||London|
|8. Abdi Nageeye||Netherlands||Rotterdam|
|9. Gabriel Geay||Tanzania||Boston|
|10. Tsegay Getachew||Ethiopia||???|
The London men’s field is amazing but this is the first time in a long time you can make the case Boston is stronger than London. Yes, London has more sub-2:02 (2 vs. 1), sub-2:03 (4 vs. 1), sub-2:04 (7 vs. 4), and sub-2:05 (10 vs. 8) guys, but each race has four of our top 10 ranked marathoners from 2022 and Boston has the two best marathoners in the world last year, led by the undisputed #1 in Eliud Kipchoge. Plus Boston has more sub-2:06 (13 vs. 12) and sub-2:07 (16 vs. 12) guys.
5. Mo Farah: “I think 2023 probably will be my last year”
After a decade of consistent, mostly injury-free performances during the 2010s, Mo Farah’s body has begun to betray him. In 2021, his attempts to qualify for a fourth Olympic team were thwarted by a fractured foot. When he returned to training at the end of that year, he tore his quadriceps. And last October, Farah was forced to withdraw from the London Marathon after sustaining a hip injury late in his preparations.
“I had a long career injury-free,” Farah said. “I don’t think I really appreciated what I did because I would just go year after year winning and winning and you don’t think about it.”
Farah had been optimistic about his fitness ahead of London in what would have been his first marathon since 2019 but never got the chance to prove it.
“Last year I was in such a great place,” Farah said. “Training had gone well, I was able to do a lot of decent sessions, kept up with the boys, with [training partner] Bashir Abdi, who finished 3rd.”
In deciding to return to London in April, Farah said he has “nothing to prove” at this point, but he still enjoys the grind of training and would like the opportunity to race in his hometown one more time (the significant appearance fee Farah likely received surely didn’t hurt, either).
“I just want to give myself one more shot and see what I can do,” Farah said.
Farah, who turns 40 on March 23, is at the stage of his career where every major race will be accompanied by the question, “Is this the end?” While he admitted he’d love to finish his career at home, he said he is taking things one race at a time. He’ll hope his body can hold up through 26.2 miles on April 23 and will reassess after that. But don’t expect him to be in Paris — or in any professional race — next year.
“I’m not gonna go to the Olympics and I think 2023 will be probably my last year,” Farah said.
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More: LRC Mile World Record Holder Sifan Hassan To Make Marathon Debut In London “I just want to be with the best and see how I run,” Hassan said. “…I’m just a curious person.”