34-year-old Eliud Kipchoge is the best marathoner there has ever been, and very likely, the best there ever will be. He enters this Sunday’s London Marathon just seven months removed from his transcendent 2:01:39 world record in Berlin, a 78-second improvement on the previous record that is only comprehensible because Kipchoge ran a is he human 2:00:25 at Nike’s Breaking2 event in 2017. Oh, and he’s also won 10 straight marathons and has never lost in London. To call him the favorite on Sunday isn’t enough; Kipchoge is arguably the biggest favorite there has ever been at a major marathon.
But Kipchoge *checks notes* isn’t perfect, and even if he has roughly a 95% chance of winning this weekend, there is still that tiny sliver of hope for the rest of the field to hold on to. No one is touching the mighty Kenyan if he runs even a minute within his PB-- a fact that must be of considerable comfort to Kipchoge-- but there are men in the field who could mount a challenge if the world record holder does not knock it out of the park, which he has basically done his entire marathon career.
Look, it probably won’t happen, but I’ve gone ahead and ranked the guys who are seeking a monumental upset on Sunday, from those requiring divine intervention to the highly accomplished men who are hoping that a career day for themselves and an off day for Kipchoge could net them the ultimate scalp.
Here are the non-Kipchoge men to watch in London:
1. Shura Kitata (ETH) 2:04:49 PB
Claim To Fame: 2nd In London 2018, Just 32 Seconds Behind Kipchoge
The 22-year-old Kitata has shown early signs of being special in the marathon, with his most visible indication coming in London a year ago as he hung with Kipchoge through 23 miles. That he stuck on the GOAT’s shoulder that long after a preposterous 61:00 first half made it all the more impressive. With much cooler weather in London this year, Kitata would seem to have the ability to run 2:03, at which point he could at least make it interesting for Kipchoge.
2. Mo Farah (GBR) 2:05:11 PB
Claim To Fame: 10 Track Gold Medals, 2018 Chicago champ
A lot of people, for whatever reason, have tried to make Eliud Kipchoge v. Mo Farah a legitimate rivalry, as if these two are remotely on the same level in the marathon. Unsurprisingly, that has continued this week:
The fact remains that Farah isn’t in the same galaxy as Kipchoge-- he finished 2:04 behind him in London last year-- but he does at least seem primed to have his best marathon yet after winning Chicago last October. Even so, Kitata beat Farah by a minute and a half a year ago, so just finishing in the top two would be an accomplishment for the hometown star in his fourth marathon.
3. Mosinet Geremew (ETH) 2:04:00 PB
Claim To Fame: Ran Really Fast And Won Dubai In 2018
In non-Kipchoge terms, Ethiopian Mosinet Geremew has credentials worthy of admiration: a 2:04:00 PB from Dubai and a runner-up finish at Chicago in just his second major marathon. But those credentials don’t really matter when Kipchoge is in the race. Geremew will likely need to run faster than his Dubai PB to win, which is no sure thing, and even then it might not be enough. A podium finish would be a nice showing for the 27-year-old.
4. Leule Gebrselassie (ETH) 2:04:02 PB
Claim To Fame: Back-to-Back 2:04s In His First Two Marathons
Gebrselassie finished just two seconds behind Geremew at Dubai in 2018, a 2:04:02 that stands as the third-fastest debut in history. Then the Ethiopian followed that up with a 2:04:31 course record in Valencia, and so he enters London as a dark horse who could certainly crash the all-star podium on Sunday. He’s not gonna beat Kipchoge or Kitata, but Farah and Geremew are reasonable scalps for him to chase
5. Tamirat Tola (ETH) 2:04:06 PB
Claim To Fame: Ran Really Fast In Dubai In 2017 And 2018
The former Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000m ran 2:04-low at Dubai in back-to-back years-- including his 2:04:11 win in 2017-- but a bit of that luster has been lost after a mediocre fourth place finish in NYC last fall.
6. Abraham Kiptum (KEN) 2:05:26 PB
Note: On Friday, Kiptum was suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit for an anti-doping violation and will not compete on Sunday.
Claim To Fame: Half Marathon World Record Holder
It’s long since been known that a quick half marathon PB has no direct correlation with marathon success-- I’m looking at you Zersenay Tadese-- but here I am again drooling over the potential of 58:18 world record holder Abraham Kiptum. The 29-year-old was mostly anonymous before that shocking record last October, and London will mark his first career major. He’s faster than his 2:05:26 would indicate-- he ran 2:04 in December on a course that was ultimately 190 meters short-- but his newness to the stage suggests even a podium finish is a stretch.
7. Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2:03:13 PB
Claim To Fame: Former World Record Holder
At 37, Wilson Kipsang’s days of winning major marathons are probably over, especially if he keeps choosing the same races as Kipchoge. The former world record holder is still a big name, and his 2:03 two years ago in Tokyo appeared to be a late career rebirth. But the Kenyan hasn’t broken 2:06 since and finished more than five minutes behind Kipchoge in Berlin last September. He’s not winning London.
8. Daniel Wanjiru (KEN) 2:05:21 PB
Claim To Fame: Won A Kipchoge-Less London In 2017
Wanjiru, the 2017 London champion, has failed to break 2:10 in his three marathons since, including an eighth place 2:10:35 finish in London last year. After hitting halfway with the leaders at 61:01 in 2018, Wanjiru completely imploded and hobbled home in 69:34. A more conservative approach may help him keep the wheels on through 26.2 miles, but you can’t afford a conservative approach when facing Kipchoge. The 26-year-old Kenyan falls in the “divine intervention” category of athletes needing a miracle on Sunday to win.