Twelve months on from their thrilling world title wins in the British capital last April, US wheelchair stars Joshua George and Tatyana McFadden will return to defend their crowns at the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon when the world’s best para-athletes go for gold in seven IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup races.
George broke British hearts last year when he edged out hometown favourite David Weir by one second at the end of a neck-and-neck battle down The Mall, while the incomparable McFadden completed a US wheelchair double and her own London Marathon hat-trick in the women’s race with her third course record in three years.
Weir equalled Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s record of six London Marathon victories in 2012, and has been targeting a seventh ever since. But the Briton had to settle for fifth three years ago, lost out to Switzerland’s multiple world champion Marcel Hug in 2014 and was forced to play second fiddle again in 2015 when George chalked up his first London victory with his first ever defeat of the ‘Weirwolf’ on a wet and blustery day in April.
Now the trio are ready to go wheel for wheel again on Sunday 24 April in pursuit of the US$20,000 winner’s prize, with the added incentives of an IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup title on offer to the victor. There are also all important points to be won as the London Marathon races become part of the first ever Abbott World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series.
George described himself as "the most hated man in London" after his win last year, when just seven seconds separated the top five, but after tasting victory once the four-times Chicago Marathon champion is determined to be among title challengers again 2016.
"It was a great battle with Dave last year," said George. "He is such a favourite on home soil and it was fantastic to finally beat him and win such a prestigious race. I am training hard to be in top form again by April and I’m really looking forward to another great clash in London."
Weir was hampered by a faulty glove which reduced his pushing power 12 months ago but still hung on to claim second in his 16th London Marathon race. The elusive goal of a record seventh title remains the 36-year-old’s driving ambition.
"I said last year I will keep coming back until I get the record, and that’s what I intend to do," said Weir. "It’s getting harder because everyone’s out to beat me and I’m not getting any younger, but with a bit of luck and a lot of hard training I’ll be back on top this year."
Hug will hope to be back to his best too after dropping out last year with a puncture just six days after winning the Boston title. Hug bagged five world titles in 2013, including the marathon, and could still be the man to beat as he seeks his second London victory.
This won’t be a three-man race, however, for the elite men’s line-up of 24 names is packed with champions and record breakers – athletes such as official world record holder Heinz Frei, the Swiss veteran who won three London titles in the 1990s; Canada’s 2010 London champion Josh Cassidy, who produced the quickest wheelchair marathon ever in Boston three years ago; and 10-times Boston Marathon winner Ernst van Dyk, the South African star who won the New York title last November but is yet to triumph in London.
Last year’s bronze medallist Masazumi Soejima is one of three top Japanese racers in the field, while London welcomes back its course record holder Kurt Fearnley, Australia’s two-time marathon world champion who was the fastest ever London Marathon winner when he beat Weir back in 2009.
As for McFadden, the US superstar has dominated women’s wheelchair racing in recent years with 13 straight marathon victories. Last year she swept the board again, completing the ‘grand slam’ of Boston, London, Chicago and New York marathons for the third successive year.
In London she defied the damp conditions, smashing more than four minutes from her own course record to win by more than two and a half minutes in 1:41:14. Six days earlier she had claimed the Boston title for a third time, and she went on to break more course records in Chicago and New York.
The triple Paralympic champion will be an overwhelming favourite to take the London crown again this April. She celebrated her 24th birthday with her first win three years ago and has gone quicker and quicker in the last two editions leaving her nearest rivals trailing in her wake.
Among McFadden’s opponents will be three talented US teammates, including the 2009 and 2011 London Marathon champion, Amanda McGrory, who was a close second in 2013 and third in 2015, and Susannah Scaroni, who was fifth last year.
Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida is the fastest woman on paper and the five-times Boston winner will be looking to regain the title she won in 2010. Paralympic bronze medallist Sandra Graf aims to repeat her 2008 victory, while her Swiss colleague Manuela Schär may well be McFadden’s closest challenger again. The 2013 world champion has finished second in London, Chicago and New York for the last two years.
Shelly Woods is Britain’s big hope for a podium place. The London Paralympic silver medallist was a commanding winner in 2012 but dropped out last year with a puncture. Woods will be joined by Jade Jones, the 20-year-old three-times Mini London Marathon winner who squeezed under two hours on her full marathon debut two years ago.
A Wheelchair competition has been added to the Abbott World Marathon Majors series for the first time in 2016 with athletes gaining points for their finishing places in eight races in 2016 (with five to score), beginning at the 2016 Boston Marathon. The winner of the men’s and women’s series will be awarded US$50,000 in prize money.
The rest of the IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup races in London will be equally compelling with reigning world and Paralympic champions in every event, not to mention numerous world record holders and previous world cup winners. Entry lists for all 2016 IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup races will be announced in late February.
Virgin Money London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher welcomed the return of the world’s top para-athletes to London’s streets in 2016.
He said: "The London Marathon has been at the forefront of efforts to develop elite marathon events for wheelchair athletes for more than 30 years and this year’s fields prove that they are still going from strength to strength.
"We are delighted to be hosting the World Cup again in 2016, headlined, of course, by our always exciting elite wheelchair races."
2016 Virgin Money London Marathon T53/54 Wheelchair Races
Joshua George (USA) 1:22:50
Josh Cassidy (CAN) 1:18:25
Ernst van Dyk (RSA) 1:18:27
Masazumi Soejima (JPN) 1:18:50
Kurt Fearnley (AUS) 1:18:51
Heinz Frei (SUI) 1:20:14
Marcel Hug (SUI) 1:20:52
Kota Hokinoue (JPN) 1:20:52
Rafael Botello Jimenez (ESP) 1:22:18
Denis Lemeunier (FRA) 1:22:31
Aaron Pike (USA) 1:22:55
Michel Filteau (CAN) 1:23:02
Hiroyuki Yamamoto (JPN) 1:23:16
Jordi Madera Jimenez (ESP) 1:23:26
James Senbeta (USA) 1:25:23
David Weir (GBR) 1:27:46
Pierre Fairbank (FRA) 1:28:59
Hong Sukman (KOR) 1:29:13
Molina Lourens (CRC) 1:30:00
Simon Lawson (GBR) 1:30:58
Jose Jiménez Hernández (CRC) 1:31:36
Liu Chengming (CHN) 1:31:54
Brian Siemann (USA) 1:35:00
Tatyana McFadden (USA) 1:35:06
Wakako Tsuchida (JPN) 1:34:06
Sandra Graf (SUI) 1:35:44
Amanda McGrory (USA) 1:36:39
Shelly Woods (GBR) 1:37:44
Manuela Schär (SUI) 1:38:07
Susannah Scaroni (USA) 1:38:33
Diane Roy (CAN) 1:40:09
Chelsea McClammer (USA) 1:45:55
Christie Dawes (AUS) 1:47:04
NatalyiaKocherova (RUS) 1:49:00
Ma Jing (CHN) 1:49:10
Jade Jones (GBR) 1:59:59
About the Virgin Money London Marathon
The 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon takes place on Sunday 24 April. For more information go to: VirginMoneyLondonMarathon.com.
The London Marathon was first held on 29 March 1981 and celebrated its 35th race in 2015.
Since 1981, the London Marathon Charitable Trust has awarded grants totalling more than £57.7 million to 1000+ organisations in London, Surrey, Silverstone, Birmingham and Liverpool.