Yalemzerf Yehualaw feeling in ‘good shape’ ahead of London Marathon defence

Defending champion Yalemzerf Yehualaw feels in “good shape” as she looks to retain her London Marathon title on Sunday.

The Ethiopian won last year’s race in October with a time of two hours 17 minutes and 26 seconds, which was the third fastest at the event, to finish ahead of previous winner Joyciline Jepkosgei.

Although Britain’s Eilish McColgan has pulled out because of a knee problem, the 2023 field includes world-record holder Brigid Kosgei and reigning Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir, while Sifan Hassan is set to make her marathon debut following 10,000 metres and 5,000m gold at Tokyo 2020.

Yehualaw, 23, knows Sunday will present a stern challenge of her ambitions to follow Kosgei in winning back-to-back London Marathon titles.

“I am so happy to be back in London, a beautiful city with a great competition. My preparation has gone very well,” she said.

“I want to defend my title on Sunday and am ready to do my best.”

Yehualaw told a press conference: “I am in good shape. I am just focused on a long run like before (rather than any specific time), and I like that.”

Brigid Kosgei
Brigid Kosgei feels she has recovered from her recent injury problems (John Walton/PA)

Kosgei – who won the London Marathon in 2019 and again in 2020, when only elite participants were allowed because of the Covid-19 pandemic – is the current world-record holder for women running in a mixed-sex race.

The Kenyan hopes to be able to shrug off some recent fitness concerns to challenge again on Sunday.

“I was well prepared, but then some weeks back I was suffering in my hamstring and in my knee, but I think the injury has become not so bad, that is why I tried to come here,” said Kosgei, also victorious in the 2022 Tokyo Marathon.

“The field is not easy, it is very strong because everyone wants to be a winner, so we will all do our best on Sunday.”

As well as her Olympic success, Jepchirchir also won the 2021 New York Marathon and also claimed the title in Boston last year.

Given the field, the Kenyan feels London could be set for a potentially record-breaking pace this weekend.

“The ladies are strong and if the weather will be fine on Sunday, I think the (world) record might go,” she said.

“Running in the rain, you can feel fatigued, but the team (field) is strong. I know that where the competition is higher, the time will be good.”

Hassan is building tow”ards the summer’s IAAF World Championships in Budapest, but is intrigued to see how her first marathon will pan out.

“I have always watched the London Marathon and wanted to run because all of the people enjoy the race and you never know who is going to win until the end,” Hassan said.

“I have not really changed the way I train, I just added a little bit the endurance because also I am fasting (during Ramadan) I didn’t add that much. My training has been ending great.

“I am actually in better shape for the 5,000m and 10,000m right now, so for the marathon, I don’t know, maybe I am also good here.”

Sifan Hassan
Sifan Hassan will make her marathon debut in London (John Walton/PA)

Hassan added: “I have already been having nerves almost for one month and I am just scared of marathon. I don’t know whether I will finish or not.

“Sometimes I wake up and it is like: ‘why the hell did I decide to run a marathon?’, but also, at the same time, I am very curious (about how I will perform).”

McColgan had hoped to take part but confirmed on Friday afternoon she not been able to shake off her injury.

The 32-year-old Scot, who won her first major title in the 10,000m at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, said: “I was sort of hopeful to be honest. I have had a bit of knee bursitis back in February, March time and it was something I could run through.

“But I couldn’t run through this. I’ve tried, trust me, but it has just got to the point where it is not going to be feasible to run a marathon this weekend.”