There is plenty to play for as we reach the conclusion of Series XI of the Abbott World Marathon Majors at the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for many of the world’s greatest marathon athletes, and after six races we are still unclear as to who will scoop the $250,000 top prize on 22 April.
The Series got underway in spectacular style in the English capital as Mary Keitany scorched her way to a women’s only world record of 2:17:01, beating Paula Radcliffe’s mark of 2:17:42 set in 2005.
Daniel Wanjiru made it a Kenyan double in the open division with his win in the men’s race and there was home crowd delight as David Weir took his seventh London wheelchair title, beating Marcel Hug in a hard-fought sprint along The Mall. Manuela Schär claimed the women’s crown to begin a dominant Series for the Swiss racer.
The open Series made a quick return to London in the summer, as it encompassed the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships, where Geoffrey Kiriu of Kenya maintained the form he had shown to win the 2017 Boston Marathon to take the gold and 25 points on offer in the Abbott WMM competition. Rose Chelimo of Bahrain was the women’s champion, beating the veteran Edna Kiplagat into second place as she crossed the finish line on Tower Bridge.
The Series then recommenced in the rain of Berlin where the stage had been set for a tussle between three of the best men in marathon history as Series IX and X champion Eluid Kipchoge faced off against Series VII king Wilson Kipsang and Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele, who had finished second in London in the spring.
The contest provided the perfect stage for the world record to tumble, but Bekele and Kipsang could not last the distance in the German capital and dropped out to leave Kipchoge in a shoot-out with surprise package Guye Adola. The Kenyan legend won the battle of wits and eased to his first win of the Series.
Gladys Cherono took the women’s title with a 22-second margin over Ethiopian Ruti Aga, and there was a second win of the women’s wheelchair Series for Schär, who was matched by her compatriot Hug in the men’s race.
Schär would not get it all her own way in the next stop for the Series at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, as a resurgent Tatyana McFadden edged a sprint finish with training partner Amanda McGrory, the Swiss star just two seconds behind them. No such problems for Hug who was crowned Chicago champion for the second time with a sprint victory over Australia’s Kurt Fearnley.
In the open division, Tirunesh Dibaba claimed her maiden Abbott WMM race win to add to her second in London, while the USA was able to celebrate its first male winner in Chicago since 2002 when Galen Rupp, former training partner to Mo Farah, ran away from the pack with three miles to go to take the tape and fire himself into Series contention.
The American fairytale was to continue on the damp streets of New York City, but this time in the women’s division. In a race dominated in recent years by Keitany, the Kenyan was beaten by Shalane Flanagan in a memorable run that saw the Boston-born athlete punching the air with delight as she romped home through Central Park.
There was a Kenyan one-two in the men’s race, with Geoffrey Kamworor just about holding off the late-charging Wilson Kipsang to win his first Abbott WMM race.
Manuela Schär returned to the top of the podium in the women’s wheelchair race, turning the tables on McFadden and matching Hug who claimed the men’s wheelchair race.
Kipsang was the firm favourite to finally claim a win in this Series in Tokyo when the show rolled into the Japanese capital in February.
But the 36-year-old succumbed to an illness picked up prior to the race and stepped off the road just 17km into proceedings. Kipsang’s withdrawal opened the door for his compatriot Dickson Chumba to run away from the field and claim a second Tokyo title.
The roars were arguably louder for the man who followed him home, however, as Yuta Shitara smashed the Japanese national record and Asian record, having carved his way from fifth to second in the late stages. Birhane Dibaba also scooped her second Tokyo victory in the women’s race.
There was more home joy in the men’s wheelchair tussle as 51-year-old Hiroyuki Yamamoto made a daring early break stick. With just Tomoki Suzuki for company, Yamamoto rounded the final bend on one wheel before out-muscling his younger compatriot for a famous victory.
Manuela Schär again proved head and shoulders above her competition with her fourth win in five Series races to establish an unassailable lead, McFadden coming home over a minute behind her rival.
And so as we head for Boston and – just six days later ¬– close the Series in London, the wheelchair spoils are largely decided with Schär and Hug both uncatchable.
But there is the potential for drama aplenty in both open divisions.
Flanagan can take a commanding position in the fight for the Series XI title if she can claim victory in Boston on 16 April.
The American scored 25 points with her win at the TCS New York City Marathon, and can move to 50 with a second triumph of the campaign.
A first place for Flanagan would deny a third Series crown for Keitany when she mounts the defence of her London title.
The Kenyan is now hunting Paula Radcliffe’s male pacemaker-assisted time of 02:15:25 in London. But Keitany’s defeat to Flanagan in Central Park last November means the Marblehead native has a better head-to-head record than the two-time Series champion.
With only the top two results counting for open division athletes, that win for Flanagan on the streets of New York City means if both women end up with two wins apiece, we will have the first American women’s champion in the history of the Series.
But Flanagan, who missed last year’s Boston Marathon with a stress fracture in her back, will have her work cut out if she is to make it to that Boylston Street Finish Line ahead of the pack.
Alongside a formidable-looking American field, defending champion Edna Kiplagat will be desperate to repeat her success of 2017. The veteran Kenyan can take a share of the lead on 41 points if she can claim the spoils on Patriots Day.
World champion Chelimo, Berlin winner Cherono and Chicago champ Dibaba are all due to be on the start line in London, too and will all still have a shot at the title.
On the men’s side, Geoffrey Kirui, who is also seeking to retain his status as Boston champion after rounding off Series X with a win there, can move to 50 points with victory after being crowned world champion last summer in London.
The same goes for Rupp who can also make it two wins from two appearances.
A win for either will leave it down to one of Kipchoge or Wanjiru to match them in London. In that scenario, there will have been no head to head between the only two men on 50 points, forcing a vote by the six race directors to find the men’s Series XI winner. Should neither Kipchoge or Wanjiru secure first or second place 22 April, and Rupp and Kirui both miss out in Boston, the door is open for the likes of Bekele and Adola to sneak into first place. Calculators at the ready.