2018 Virgin Money London Marathon Diary: Gloves off for Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba as rematch beckons in the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday, by Andy Edwards for Race News Service


Andy Edwards, of Race News Service, along with his partner, Joerg Wenig, cover many global races for RunBlogRun. In many events, Andy provides audio interviews of elite athletes the events that they support with public relations. In London, Andy is doing both text stories and audio coverage of Virgin Money London this year. Today's piece is on the amazing women's race that will take place between Mary Keitanya nd Tirunesh Dibaba, athletes so very different in their race approaches that we could see a real battle in 2018.

Read Andy's story and send us your thoughts at [email protected].

mary Keitany.jpgMary Keitany, 2017 VM London champion, WR holder (women's only race), photo courtesy of London Marathon Media

large.jpgTirunesh Dibaba, second place, 2017 Virgin M London, champion, 2017 Bank of America Chicago champion, photo courtesy of London Marathon Media

Gloves off for Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba as rematch beckons in the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday

By Andy Edwards, Race News Service

Wednesday, April 18

With no disrespect intended towards the elite women's field in general, Wednesday's press conference did little to dispel the impression that come 9.15 am on Sunday, a ring announcer might as well step forward and announce: "In the red corner, the defending champion, Mary Keitany of Kenya and in the blue corner, the challenger and 2017 runner-up, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia." This is not to denigrate the abilities of rivals such as Gladys Cherono, twice winner in Berlin, Tigist Tufa, the 2015 London champion, Rose Chelimo, the 2017 World Champion and Vivian Cheruiyot, fourth here on her debut last year and coming from an impressive track career. But to borrow from boxing terminology once more: Keitany and Dibaba are ready to rumble.

Unfailingly courteous as elite East African distance runners are on their public appearances, there was no mistaking the steel behind their replies. Returning to London after her brilliant win in 2:17:01, a world record for a women's only race, Mary Keitany rejected the suggestion that she might feel the weight of expectations and welcomed the addition of male pacemakers for the latest edition: "I'm just here to try to run my pb and also because we have male pacemakers I think they will assist us a lot and try to follow in the footsteps of Paula Radcliffe."

The 36-year-old Kenyan, aiming to equal Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway's record of four London victories, has already erased one entry for Radcliffe's name in the record books by her women's only record last year, superseding the Briton's 2:17:42 set in 2005. But the target is now the summit of women's marathon running: Paula Radcliffe's 2:15:25, achieved in London in 2003 with male pacemakers. The women's elite press conference was held in two parts with Keitany and Dibaba forming the second half. When Gladys Cherono, Tigist Tufa, Rose Chelimo and Vivian Cheruiyot were asked about the prospect of following a 2:15 pace, the looks on their faces suggested that was a step beyond all but one or two women on Sunday.

While Keitany talked about following in Paula Radcliffe's footsteps in a one to one interview, Tirunesh Dibaba appeared equally assured in answering questions from the floor. Explaining that her build-up for London took into account her track season last year when she took silver in the World Championship 10,000m before winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:18:31 and a two-month break, the Ethiopian record holder for the marathon said: "I have changed many things in training" - but didn't wish to divulge what they were.

Dibaba admitted that Keitany's early attack last year caught her by surprise - the Kenyan led by 50 metres at 5k and clocked 66:54 at halfway, the fastest ever women's split: "I was really well prepared but I was shocked that Mary went so hard from the start." Dibaba made inroads on Keitany's lead to finish in 2:17:56, becoming the third fastest woman of all time.

The overall impression of Mary Keitany's replies was that she is ready and willing to attack early and hard. She brought up the subject of New York in 2011 when she tried the same tactic and faded to third, comparing it with her mindset in London last year and, by implication, for Sunday's race: "I was keeping in mind what I did in New York in 2011 so I didn't want to do the same because I know most people were thinking , Mary is doing the same as in 2011. I was very OK and I was very ready. I've done a lot of marathons and have a lot of experience."

Seconds out for round two!

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