Tigist Tufa after winning the 2015 London Marathon (© Getty Images)
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, organisers of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race announced on Tuesday (12).
Tufa will again face the woman she beat to win the coveted crown in 2015, Kenya’s Mary Keitany, and the woman who won the world title last summer, Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba.
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.
The Ethiopian 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.
Tufa went on to finish sixth at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 last August, a race won by Dibaba, and then came home third at the New York City Marathon behind Keitany 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 Tufa denied Keitany a third London Marathon win last year.
Keitany improved the African record to 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.
The Kenyan is again the fastest woman on the start list, one of nine women in the elite field with personal bests better than 2:22:00, while no fewer than five have run the classic distance faster than 2:20:00.
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.
More Kenyan challengers
London’s sub-2:20 club includes two other highly-ranked Kenyans who have recently been in winning form: Berlin Marathon champion Gladys Cherono, who will make her London Marathon debut, and Chicago Marathon champion and world half marathon record-holder Florence Kiplagat, who was fifth in London last year.
Aselefech Mergia, another of Tufa’s compatriots, is another member of the deep elite women’s field announced on Tuesday. 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.
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 personal best, just ahead of Morocco’s Rkia El Moukim, who is also in the field again.
With Rio 2016 Olympic Games places up for grabs, there will be fierce competition among the leading Britons. The first two home with British Athletics’ qualifying time of 2:31:00 are guaranteed a trip to Rio, which puts Sonia Samuels and Alyson Dixon in the driving seat as they both beat the standard at the Berlin Marathon last September.
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 the 2012 Olympic Games 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.
Organisers for the IAAF
Elite women’s field (and personal bests):
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
Tigist Tufa (ETH) 2:21:52
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