The hugely anticipated contest between Kenenisa Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge at Sunday’s 40th London Marathon is off after Bekele pulled out on Friday afternoon with a calf injury.
Organisers had expected that having the two greatest distance runners in history square off on a fast course around St James’s Park would put Kipchoge’s world record of 2:01:39 under serious threat.
However, the 38-year-old Bekele, a three-time Olympic gold medallist and world 10,000m record holder, insisted he had no option to withdraw. “I am very disappointed that I cannot race on Sunday,” said the Ethiopian. “I was in good shape but then I picked up a niggle in my left calf after two fast training sessions too close together in the last weeks of preparation.
“I have been having treatment every day since then and I truly believed I would be ready but today it is worse and I now know I cannot race on it. This race was so important to me.
“My time in Berlin last year [2:01:40] gave me great confidence and motivation and I was looking forward to show that again, I have worked so hard for it. I know many people around the world have been looking forward to this race and I am sorry to disappoint my fans, the organisers and my fellow competitors.”
Hugh Brasher, the event director of the race, tried to put a brave face on the news. “We know how disappointed Kenenisa is and we wish him a speedy recovery,” he said. “But this was never likely to be just a two-man race as we had four of the top-10 fastest marathon runners - and six men in the field who have broken 2:05, including Mosinet Geremew and Mule Wasihun, second and third last year, and the 2018 runner-up, Shura Kitata.”
The women’s race, which kicks off proceedings off at 7.15am on Sunday, should still live up to its billing as the world record holder, Brigid Kosgei, faces the world champion, Ruth Chepngetich, and the 2018 winner, Vivian Cheruiyot. Kosgei says she is not in quite the shape as when she ran 2:14:04 in Chicago last year, breaking Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old world record by 81 seconds. If there are any chinks in her armour, her compatriots certainly have the class to exploit them.