The eight-time London Marathon champion tips Swiss star Marcel Hug for a third straight wheelchair title on Sunday
Britain’s multiple Paralympic champion David Weir admitted Marcel Hug may be too good to beat on Sunday, when the Swiss superstar bids for a third consecutive men’s wheelchair title – just six days after smashing the Boston Marathon course record.
Hug destroyed the field in the US race on Monday, taking almost a minute from the old race record, despite facing headwinds and rainy conditions on the notoriously hilly route.
For Weir, whose last London win came in 2018, Hug is simply “an amazing athlete”.
“Anyone who saw that race in Boston knows it was astonishing,” said the 43-year-old. “I think the rest of us are all battling for second and third, to be honest. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
“Right now, I feel privileged just to be on the same podium with him.” It was a performance that raised eyebrows across the wheelchair racing world, even from a man who’s already won two Paralympic titles and enjoyed multiple victories in Abbott World Marathon Majors races around the globe.
Those include no fewer than seven in Berlin, plus six in Boston and five in New York, as well as four London wins – the most recent coming last October, when Hug broke the course record to retain his crown from 2021.
Six months on, the so-called Silver Bullet returns in the form of his life with eyes fixed firmly on matching Weir’s London record of three in a row.
Hug also reported that he was “feeling good” for Sunday, despite the short recovery period and long flight from Boston.
“The jet lag is not too bad so far,” said the 37-year-old, who admitted his superfast Boston time was a surprise.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, and I certainly wasn’t expecting that fast time. The rain made it difficult, but I was just trying to go as hard as possible. I thought it might be a fast time, but in the end, I was surprised how quick it was. I was very happy.”
After winning all five of his Majors races last year, Hug is the undisputed world number one over 26.2 miles, a status he clearly relishes.
“I like to be the one catching up sometimes, but also the pressure of being the one who needs to be caught. Both have their challenges,” he said.
The challenge for the rest of the field is how to stay with Hug over London’s technical course. No-one knows its twists and turns better than Weir, who will race his 24th consecutive London Marathon on Sunday hoping for a ninth win.
Weir has placed third in the last two editions following his runner-up slot in 2020, a podium-reaching record the six-time Paralympic gold medallist is keen to retain until he finally parks his racing wheelchair after nearly a quarter of a century in the sport.
“The London Marathon means everything to me,” he said. “It has done since I started as an eight-year-old in the Mini Marathon. My dream was always to win it as it was the only time I saw wheelchair sport on TV.
“I love the race, the organisation, the crowd, everything about it. If I only did one race a year it would be London.”
The London Marathon will also be his last race, Weir revealed, although when that moment comes is still open to question.
“This is my 24th, so I’ve got to hit the 25-mark at least. I’ll definitely finish my career here, I just don’t know when,” he said. “For now, I’m enjoying training and racing more than ever.”
Weir’s love of the event is shared by last year’s women’s wheelchair winner, Catherine Debrunner, a marathon newcomer who made it a Swiss double in October when she broke the women’s course record in only her second attempt at the distance.
“I really remember the crowds in the last six kilometres, when I was suffering,” said the 28-year-old. “It was such a special atmosphere. It was really magical, something you can’t explain to someone who hasn’t done it.
“This race brings the sport to a new level,” she added. “I’m really looking forward to Sunday. It’s a really big women’s field, which is great.”
That field includes fellow Swiss, Manuela Schär, the three-time winner who’s racing London for the ninth time after missing out in 2022 due to illness. Schär is aiming to make amends after failing to finish in Boston, where she had problems with her grip in the wet conditions and suffered a flat tyre.
“It was a bad day,” she said. “I’m hoping for a solid race on Sunday.”
A solid race could bring rich rewards for many wheelchair athletes this year, with a record prize pot of nearly a quarter of a million dollars up for grabs as London moves towards pay parity for its runners and pushers.
“This marathon has pioneered the sport,” commented Schär. “It really made it possible to compete on a professional level. We’re treated the same as the runners and it means we are seen, and so get sponsorship and support. It makes all the difference.”
“There has been a real change in the last decade,” agreed Susannah Scaroni, the US racer who’s going for her first London win in nine races here less than a week after winning in Boston for the first time.
“The prize money provides great recognition for us,” she said. “I first raced in London in 2012 and it has really raised the bar for Paralympic sport over the years.”