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Mary Keitany defends her women’s title against many of the world’s leading runners, including four fellow Kenyans, five quality Ethiopians, and double London champion Irina Mikitenko.
Keitany had a brilliant year in 2011 when she smashed the world half marathon record, broke the 2 hours 20 minutes barrier with a memorable victory in London, and ran the first half of the New York City Marathon last November inside world record schedule before fading to finish third.
Bu tthe 30-year-old faces a tough task as the women’s field assembled by race director Dave Bedford contains four athletes who have broken 2:20, and no fewer than 17 who have run the distance quicker than 2:25, including the reigning World and Olympic champions.
All five Kenyans will be vying for spots on Kenya’s Olympic team. Keitany’s compatriots are world champion Edna Kiplagat, who was third in London last year after winning the 2010 New York title; Priscah Jeptoo, last year’s Paris champion and silver medallist at the Daegu World Championships; Florence Kiplagat who was a brilliant winner of the Berlin Marathon last September, and Lucy Kabuu who ran a superb time to finish second in January’s remarkable Dubai Marathon.
The Ethiopian women will also be striving for Olympic selection. They include Atsede Baysa, the double Paris marathon champion; Ejegayehu Dibaba, runner-up in Chicago this year; Aberu Kebede, the 2010 Berlin champion; Toronto champion Koren Jelela; and Bezunesh Bekele, who was fourth in Daegu and ran an impressive personal best in Dubai.
Mikitenko should provide the Africans’ main challenge. The German record holder was London champion in 2008 and 2009 and finished second in the Berlin Marathon last September ahead of Paula Radcliffe.
The experienced Russian pair, Inga Abitova and Mariya Konovalova, shouldn’t be discounted either. Abitova was second behind her compatriot Liliya Shobukhova in 2010, while Konovalova was third in Chicago that year.
Swedish record holder Isabellah Andersson and Portuguese star Jéssica Augusto are also in the field, while Constantina Dita, Romania’s 42-year-old Olympic champion, runs her 10th London Marathon.
“This has to be one of the most talented women’s fields we’ve ever had and with numerous Olympic places up for grabs I’m sure we’ll see a fantastic race,” said Bedford. “We are delighted that our champion Mary Keitany is back following her superb victory last year but she will have to be at her very best just to win the battle of the Kenyans, while athletes from other countries have great marathon pedigrees of their own and have everything to prove ahead of the Olympic Games.”