The defending champion is in confident mood ahead of Sunday’s showdown with the world’s best
Yalemzerf Yehualaw believes the world record could be in danger on Sunday when she defends her London Marathon title against a women’s field described as one of the greatest ever assembled.
The Ethiopian became the youngest women’s winner in London Marathon history last October when she broke the course record, running 2:17:26 – her second victory and second sub-2:18 race in her short marathon career.
Just six months later, the world 10K road record holder has returned to the British capital in mood to add another record-breaking exploit to her steadily growing list of superlatives.
“My preparations have gone very well,” said the 23-year-old, who also set the fastest ever debut marathon in Hamburg last year and holds the second quickest half-marathon time in history.
“I am so happy to be back in London. It is a beautiful city and a great competition. With so many great athletes, I hope we can run a course record, or even the world record.
“I really want to defend my title. I am in good shape and focused. But I will need to be even better this year.”
Yehualaw’s assessment of the field is hardly misplaced for she faces a formidable set of foes, including Kenyan world record holder Brigid Kosgei, seeking her third London crown; her compatriot Peres Jepchirchir, who took the Tokyo Olympic gold in Sapporo two years ago; and the much garlanded Dutch runner Sifan Hassan, who’s making an eagerly anticipated marathon debut after taking world and Olympic titles on the track at every distance from 1500m to 10,000m.
Like Yehualaw, Jepchirchir is undefeated over the 26.2-mile distance, winning all five of her races so far, including the 2021 New York City and 2022 Boston Marathons. With the world half marathon record and a super-quick 2:17:16 time to her name, it’s no surprise that the Olympic champion is also eyeing the record books ahead of her London debut.
“I can see the team is very strong here,” said the 29-year-old. “So, if the weather is good, I think the record can go on Sunday.
“This is my dream race,” she added. “I have always said I want to run the London Marathon, so I’m delighted to be here at last.”
Jepchirchir suffered a gluteus muscle injury when training for the New York City Marathon last autumn, but described her London preparations as “very good”.
“I do the same training for all my marathons,” she said. “Training has been good since January. Everything is well and I hope on Sunday my body responds and the result can come.”
For once, results are not at the top of Hassan’s mind as she dips her toe in the choppy waters of marathon running for the first time. The 30-year-old former refugee from Ethiopia admitted she’s been feeling the nerves in the build-up to Sunday’s race.
“I’ve already been nervous for a month,” said Hassan, who holds the European half marathon record. “To be honest, I am scared of the marathon. Sometimes I wake up and think ‘Why the hell did I decide to run a marathon?’ I don’t know whether I will finish or not.
“But I’m also very curious. I am excited to be in front of the crowds. I don’t watch many marathons, but I always watch London because it is like a championship race – you never know who’s going to win till the end.
“I can’t really say how I will do,” she added. “I don’t have a time in mind, or a place. I just want to finish the race and see what happens.”
Compared to Hassan, Kosgei is a marathon veteran, with 15 races behind her and victories in Chicago and Tokyo as well as back-to-back London wins in 2019 and 2020.
But training hasn’t quite gone to plan this year for the 29-year-old, who suffered a hamstring injury “some weeks ago”.
“I don’t think it is too bad, so I decided to come,” said Kosgei. “The field is not easy, so it will be a struggle till the last moments. May the best one win.”
Kosgei famously broke Paula Radcliffe’s long-standing women-only world record in Chicago three and a half years ago. Whether she will still hold it after Sunday remains to be seen.