Finally, the much-awaited race pitting two of the world’s greatest marathoners, Eliud Kipchoge and his fiercest rival, Kenenisa Bekele, is getting closer after the organizers of the 2020 Virgin London Marathon confirmed a strong field of participants ahead of the October 4th race.
This will only be the fifth time that Kipchoge, the reigning world marathon record holder (2:01.39), and Bekele, who holds the 5,000m world record, race against each other.
The first time the world had a rare opportunity to watch the greatest runners in the distance was in 2014 in Chicago.
Kipchoge has won all but one race of his marathon career.
He is the current Olympic champion and holds another rare record as the first and only human to have completed a full marathon in under two hours.
But he will face off against Bekele, a man who went unbeaten between 2003 and 2011 in the 10,000m before he switched to the road race the following year.
His marathon debut was in Paris where he had a resounding debut; then to Chicago where he raced against before he struggled with an Achilles tendon injury.
It is also chilling to remember that Bekele missed the world record by just two seconds on the streets of Berlin City.
With the these two marathon iconic figures set to face each other, on the one hand, the race promises to be an epic battle for both players, who are under the same stable, to enhance their reputations as well as seek an early ticket to the Olympics in Japan next year.
On the other hand, the race will be more of a Kenyan versus Ethiopia duel. Ethiopia is Kenya’s traditional rival in the long distance.
Kipchoge and Bekele will also face stiff competition from with six other top marathoners who have ran sub 2.05 in the past.
They include Mosinet Geremew (ETH) and Mule Wasihun (ETH) who were second and third respectively at the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon.
Others are Sisay Lemma (ETH), Tamirat Tola (ETH), Marius Kipserem (KEN) and Shura Kitata (ETH)and reigning European hour record holder Sondre Nordstad Moen (NOR).
The Norwegian broke the the mark in his native country earlier this month by running 21.132km.
Briton Mo Farah will be a pacemaker for this group of Olympic hopefuls.
The news that World Athletics will lift its suspension of the Olympic qualification system for marathon races from 1 September means there will also be a clutch of athletes racing with the ambition to achieve the Olympic standard of 2:11:30.
Farah, the four-time Olympic champion, said: “The London Marathon has been so important to me since I was a schoolboy and when they asked me to do this I thought it would be great to help. I am in good shape, I’ll be in London that week and it fits in with my training.”
“I’ve been training here in Font-Romeu with some of the British guys who are going for that Olympic qualifying time and they are good lads. I know just how special it is just to compete for your country at an Olympic Games and it would be great to help other athletes achieve this. With the current global situation and lack of races, the Virgin Money London Marathon in October is the best chance for athletes to run the Olympic qualifying time.”
At present only two British athletes other than Farah have run inside this time — Callum Hawkins, who has been pre-selected for the Olympic Games marathon and Jonny Mellor who ran 2:10:03 in Seville in January.
Farah himself has opted to run on the track at the Olympic Games.
The elite women’s field is headlined by world record holder Brigid Kosgei from Kenya who will also face a challenge from five other women who have run inside 2:20.
They include the current world champion Ruth Chepngetich (KEN), 2019 Valencia Marathon champion Roza Dereje (ETH), 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon champion Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN), 2019 Frankfurt Marathon winner Valary Jemeli (KEN) and 2019 Amsterdam Marathon champion Degitu Azimeraw (ETH).
Ashete Bekere (ETH), the winner of last year’s BMW Berlin Marathon, Alemu Megertu (ETH), the 2019 Rome Marathon champion, plus Sara Hall (USA) and Sinead Diver (AUS) are also included in a star-studded race.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the elite races at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will be held on a closed-loop circuit around St James’s Park in central London with the iconic finish on The Mall remaining the same as in previous years.
The races, which will also include a wheelchair race, will be held in a secure biosphere as has been the case with other major sporting events such as Test Cricket and Formula 1.
No spectators will be allowed on the road-side to watch. BBC Sport, however, is planning eight hours of live coverage of the event.
It will be the 40th race in London Marathon history and the first to have elite-only races.
Those with a place in the mass-participation 2020 event will still have the chance to take part in The 40th Race by running the famous 26.2 mile marathon distance from home or anywhere in the world on the course of their choice.
All finishers will receive the coveted finisher medal and New Balance finisher T-shirt. General entries open on Wednesday 26 August. In addition, all runners and charities will have the chance to defer their place to a future London Marathon – in 2021, 2022 or 2023.
Additional reporting by London Marathon website