Kenyan girls look at London Marathon as Olympic trial

Nairobi, Jan 13 (IANS) The London Marathon in April will indeed serve as a perfect trial for the Kenya team for the Rio Olympics with up to five top runners lining up in battle for the gold medal.

Kenya will be lining up New York Marathon champion Mary Keitany (2:18:37), Berlin winner Gladys Cherono (2:19:25), Chicago champion Florence Kiplagat (2:19:44) as also both veteran Priscah Jeptoo (2:20:14) and Jemima Sumgong (2:20:48), reports Xinhua.

“I have always said that competing at the Olympics is my dream,” said Keitany in Iten on Tuesday. “But as usual, it is not all about me. The selectors have the upper say, but I will let my legs do the talking in London.”

Four years ago, Kenya selected the first three women home at last London Marathon – Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, and Priscah Jeptoo. Florence Kiplagat, who was a distant fourth, was left out.

But the scenario will repeat itself in 2016 as the four together with Sumgong, the New York Marathon silver medallist, has also been added to the group.

“Kenya has a tough pool of talented marathon runners and making it in the team is always a big challenge. But I have bit my time and feel am ready to challenge the status quo in London, and hopefully I will emerge victorious to claim a slot in the Kenya team,” Florence Kiplagat said.

But while the quest for Kenya ticket is important, it can wait its due course as these athletes put their best foot forward for honours in the London Marathon against defending champion Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia on April 24.

Tufa upset the odds when she outran four much-fancied Kenyans to win last year, becoming only the second Ethiopian ever to claim the women’s title.

The 28-year-old denied Keitany a third London Marathon victory last year and the Kenyan looks set to be Tufa’s main rival again in 2016.

Keitany smashed the African record with 2:18:37, the fourth fastest time in history, when she won the London Marathon for a second time in 2012 but she needed a sprint finish to secure last year’s runner-up spot by one second.

Keitany is again the fastest woman on the start list, one of nine women in the elite field with personal bests better than two hours 22 minutes, while no fewer than five have run the gruelling 26.2-mile challenge in under 2:20 hours.

Dibaba, a former Chicago Marathon champion who runs in London for the first time, is one of that quintet, with a best of 2:19:52.

She and Keitany currently lie neck and neck at the top of the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series IX standings on 41 points apiece, with Tufa just seven behind.

While competition between those three looks set to be fierce, London’s sub-2:20 club includes two other highly-ranked Kenyans who have been in winning form: Gladys Cherono, the 2015 Berlin Marathon champion, who will make her London Marathon debut, and Florence Kiplagat, last year’s Chicago Marathon champion and world half-marathon record holder, who was fifth last year. Kiplagat runs in London for the fifth time in 2016 seeking her first victory.

The five-strong Kenyan challenge is completed by Priscah Jeptoo, the Olympic bronze medallist who was a London Marathon winner three years ago, and Jemima Sumgong, a former Rotterdam Marathon champion who was sixth in 2015, one place ahead of Jeptoo.

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