Tigist Tufa surprised many with her London win in 2015, what will she show us in 2016?
TUFA TAKES ON KEITANY AT 2016 VIRGIN MONEY LONDON MARATHON
Tigist Tufa will return to the scene of her greatest triumph when she lines up to defend her Virgin Money London Marathon title on Sunday 24 April against the woman she beat to win the coveted crown in 2015 and the woman who won the world title last summer.
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 on a day that saw record numbers cross the London Marathon finish line at the end of the 35th anniversary race.
Tufa was at the head of them all, producing a devastating burst in the last three miles to take a shock victory in front of two-time winner Mary Keitany.
She returns to the British capital determined to show that last year's victory was no fluke after finishing sixth at the Beijing World Championships last August, a race won by fellow Ethiopian Mare Dibaba, and third at the New York City Marathon where Keitany enjoyed her second victory last November.
"Winning in London was the greatest moment in my career so far," said Tufa, who won the Shanghai and Ottawa marathons in 2014. "I am happy to be returning to London in 2016 to defend my title. I know it won't be easy because the London fields are always the best in the world, but I am determined to do my best again."
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 2 hours 22 minutes, while no fewer than five have run the gruelling 26.2-mile challenge in under 2:20.
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.
Aselefech Mergia, another of Tufa's compatriots, also falls into that elite bracket. A three-time winner of the lucrative Dubai Marathon, Mergia is the 2010 London champion and was fourth last year.
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.
The European challenge will be led by Portugal's Jessica Augusto and Volha Mazuronak from Belarus. Augusto ran a personal best to place sixth here in 2014, her third top 10 finish, while Mazuronak was ninth last year in a PB, just ahead of Morocco's Rkia El Moukim, who is also in the line-up again.
With Team GB Olympic places up for grabs, there will be fierce competition among the leading Britons. The first two home with British Athletics's qualifying time of 2:31 are guaranteed a trip to Rio.
That puts Sonia Samuels and Alyson Dixon in the driving seat as they both beat the standard at the Berlin Marathon last September.
Samuels was the first Briton home in London last year and the Sale Harrier finished ninth in Berlin in a personal best of 2:28:04. Dixon also ran a PB in the German capital and the Sunderland Stroller will be hoping to make up for 2012 when she missed out on the London Games.
Susan Partridge could also be in the mix after coming desperately close to the selection time in Chicago last October, while Freya Ross has high hopes of making the Olympic team again after running at London 2012 as a late replacement for Paula Radcliffe. The experienced Louise Damen is also capable of achieving the time, and marathon debutantes Jess Coulson and Charlotte Purdue should not be discounted either.
Hugh Brasher, Virgin Money London Marathon Event Director, said: "Tigist Tufa showed last year that predictions mean nothing in marathon racing when she beat all the favourites with a thrilling victory.
"This year's line-up is no less exciting with five members of the prestigious sub-2:20 club all set to challenge the champion. With the Rio Olympics around the corner providing an extra incentive to all the elite runners, it is set to be another race to remember."
Virgin Money London Marathon 2016 women's elite field and personal bests:
Tigist Tufa (ETH) 2:21:52
Mary Keitany (KEN) 2:18:37
Gladys Cherono (KEN) 2:19:25
Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2:19:31
Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:44
Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:19:52
Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 2:20:14
Feyse Tadese (ETH) 2:20:27
Jemima Sumgong (KEN) 2:20:48
Jessica Augusto (POR) 2:24:25
Volha Mazuronak (BLR) 2:25:36
Rkia El Moukim (MAR) 2:26:33
Diana Lobacevske (LTU) 2:28:03
Sonia Samuels (GBR) 2:28:04
Freya Ross (GBR) 2:28:10
Alyson Dixon (GBR) 2:29:30
Louise Damen (GBR) 2:30:00
Susan Partridge (GBR) 2:30:46
Irvette Van Blerk (RSA) 2:31:26
Cassie Fien (AUS) 2:38:53
Jess Coulson (GBR) Debut
Charlotte Purdue (GBR) Debut
Notes to Editors
• The 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon takes place on Sunday 24 April 2016. For more information go to: www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.
• The London Marathon was first held on 29 March 1981 and celebrated its 35th race in 2015.
• The London Marathon Charitable Trust awarded grants totalling £4.8 million to 72 projects in 2014, bringing the total of grants allocated by The Trust to more than £56.4 million to 1000+ organisations in London, Surrey, Silverstone, Birmingham and Liverpool.