Ethiopia’s defending champion Mare Dibaba, who finished just a second ahead of Kenya’s Helah Kiprop to win gold in Beijing in 2:27:35, will seek to match the performance of Kiprop’s compatriot Edna Kiplagat, who in 2013 became the first woman to win back-to-back world titles in the marathon.
But the 27-year-old will face a huge challenge from Bahrain's 33-year-old Eunice Kirwa, who took bronze behind Dibaba in Beijing and finished one place ahead of her in the silver medal position at last year’s Rio Olympics.
Kirwa marked her international debut for Bahrain in 2014 by winning the Asian Games title, and will be after a global title that would effectively crown her career.
She has the best time this year of any entrant – the 2:21:17 she set in winning the Nagoya Marathon on 12 March is sixth on this year’s world list, one place ahead of the 2:21:19 set in finishing second at this year’s Tokyo Marathon by Ethiopia’s Berhane Dibaba, a consistent performer who will be another serious medal challenger.
Kiplagat, now 37, finished fifth in Beijing as defending champion and is back again with the target of winning a third world marathon title, which would be unprecedented for women or men. Another medal would put her in the elite company of Catherine Ndereba, Manuela Machado and Lidia Simon as the only three-time marathon medallists at the World Championships.
Meanwhile world silver medallist Kiprop is back to see if she can go one better in London, with the Kenyan trio being rounded out by 35-year-old Flomena Cheyech Daniel, who has run a personal best of 2:21:22 this year in finishing third at the Paris Marathon.
Ethiopia – for whom, surprisingly, Mare Dibaba has been the only medallist in the history of the event – will also call upon the rising talent of 21-year-old Shure Demise, who has a personal best of 2:20:50 and ran 2:22:57 in finishing second at this year’s Dubai Marathon.
Japan’s 23-year-old Yuko Ando, who recorded a personal best of 2:21:36 in finishing second behind Kirwa in Nagoya, will be backed by 29-year-old Risa Shigetomo, who has run 2:24:22 this year and has a best of 2:23:23. Mao Kiyota, the third Japanese runner, has run a best of 2:23:47 this year.
Two years ago in Beijing the Japanese women failed to have a top six finisher in the marathon for the first time in 10 years, with Mao Ito finishing seventh. This time round the pressure will be on to return to normal working.
Japan is the second most successful nation in terms of women’s marathon medals at the World Championships, with two golds – thanks to Junko Asari in 1993 and Hiromi Suzuki in 1997 – five silvers and a bronze. They have won more medals than any other nation, but Kenya top the list with their total of seven as four of those are gold – Ndereba won in 2003 and 2007, and Kiplagat earned her successive golds in 2011 and 2013.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF