Nairobi: Britain’s double Olympic and world champion Mo Farah makes his eagerly-awaited marathon debut in London on Sunday, but has his work cut out with the jump-in distance and competition from top Kenyans and Ethiopians.
Kenya’s elite runners say they have little to fear from the newcomer to the distance, predicting a baptism of fire for Farah as he grapples with uncharted racing territory coupled with seasoned marathon veterans setting a punishing pace.
The 32-year-old 5,000 and 10,000m track star spent the better part of the winter training in Kenya’s high-altitude Rift Valley region in a bid to raise his game and compete against the world’s best.
Leading the elite field is Kenyan Wilson Kipsang, who holds the world record after clocking a spectacular 2:03.23 in Berlin last year and has won London in 2012. Observers of the sport see Farah as being capable of running a time of around 2:06.
“It’s not going to be easy (for Farah) and he’s not likely to win,” Kipsang told AFP.
Farah caused a scare last month when he collapsed after the New York City Half Marathon, in which he came in second behind Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai and failed again to break the one hour mark for 21.1-kilometre (13.1 miles), something his competitors manage on a regular basis.
Mutai, who regularly trains with Kipsang, will also be racing London and will also be a fearsome competitor having won the New York marathon twice, as well as Berlin and Boston, where he clocked an unofficial world best of 2:03.02.
Still, Mutai said the Somalia-born Farah will be something of a dark horse in the pack.
“He’s actually very fit and he will give us a big push in London,” Mutai said, adding: “We are ready for his challenge.”
Fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai, another rival who holds the London marathon course record of 2:04.40, said Farah’s only hope would be if the Kenyans and Ethiopians set out at too fast a pace and hit the wall — repeating what happened a year ago.
“I’m only hoping the runners do not try to break each other down in the fight for the lead during the early part of the race like we did last year, to our own detriment,” he said.
Early pacesetting will be provided on Sunday by the legendary Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, who is under instruction to take the athletes through the first 30km at the world record pace.
The elite Ethiopian contingent is also strong: the diminutive but gritty racer Tsegaye Kebede will be there to defend his London title, sub-2:05 runners Ayele Abshero and Tsegaye Mekonnen will be in the pack while 10,000m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan will also be making his marathon debut.