London Marathon race organisers have done it again. This year’s match-up between Kenyan trailblazer Eliud Kipchoge and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele has all the ingredients to make London 2020 the greatest marathon of all time.
The 40th edition of the race has brought together two legends who have redefined distance running for almost 20 years now.
Kipchoge is the Olympic champion, the world record holder and – unofficially at least – the first man to run a sub two-hour marathon, clocked last year in Vienna at the tailor-made INEOS Challenge.
But 2019 was also a special year for Bekele, who won in Berlin and in falling just two seconds short of Kipchoge’s world record of 2:01:39, announced himself as the main contender to his Kenya’s status as the world’s greatest-ever marathon runner.
The pair’s rivalry stretches as far back as 2003 when Kipchoge surprised Bekele and Moroccan middle distance superstar Hicham El Guerrouj by outsprinting the pair for 5000m gold at the World Championships in Paris.
Since that point, it was Bekele who dominated the rivalry, sweeping all before him on track and cross country, mopping up three Olympic gold medals, six World Championship golds and 11 World Cross Country titles, often with Kipchoge a step or two below him on the podium.
But when the pair turned to the roads in 2013 and 2014, the roles reversed. Suddenly Kipchoge was the dominant force and having racked up nine successive marathon victories, he is the undisputed king of 26.2 miles.
For Bekele, the transition was not as smooth. Although he triumphed on his debut in Paris, he didn’t win a major until 2016 and found himself largely in Kipchoge’s growing shadow on the roads.
The career head-to-head still favours Bekele at 13-7 on all surfaces, but the trend is with Kipchoge having won all their marathon clashes. Yet, with Bekele having eased onto the shoulder of Kipchoge with his superb win in Berlin last year, London could be set for one of the greatest marathon races ever.