(29-Sep) -- The elite men competing at Sunday's 41st Virgin Money London Marathon will not only be competing for one of the most prestigious titles in all of road running, they will also be running for what will likely be the largest cash payout in all of athletics this year. In addition to customary appearance fees, personal bonuses, and financial incentives offered by kit sponsors, the men's winner of Sunday's race can earn $355,000 in prize money and time bonuses if he breaks Eliud Kipchoge's world record of 2:01:39. Such a performance would mean a total payday of over half a million dollars from all sources.
PHOTO: Evans Chebet speaking at the Virgin Money London Marathon pre-race press conference on September 29 (image via Zoom)
And that's just for the winner.
Under event director Hugh Brasher and elite athletes manager Spencer Barden, London offers a unique combination of financial incentives, combining high appearance fees (reserved for the very best athletes), modest prize money (just $55,000 for the winner; much lower than Boston or New York), and out-sized time bonuses which are not place-restricted. In other words, athletes can earn any of the stated time bonuses, below, regardless of where they finish:
In addition to the above, race winners can earn $25,000 for a course record (sub-2:02:37) and another $125,000 for a world record (sub-2:01:39).
Race officials confirmed to Race Results Weekly today that the usual team of elite pacemakers will help the contenders achieve fast times. There had been some confusion about the presence of pacemakers in this year's elite race because the pace-group leaders for citizen runners had been eliminated as a COVID safety measure. Organizers want runners spread out as much as possible on the course and not running in large groups.
"Yes, there will be pacemakers in London for the elite races as usual," said marathon spokesman Ryan Goad in a WhatsApp message. "There won't be pacers for the mass event due to COVID mitigation measures i.e., the runners that go at 3h, 3:30, 4h pace."
This year's London race has seven men who have run sub-2:04 during their careers on record-eligible courses, and three have run under 2:03 (Ethiopia's Birhanu Legese and Mosinet Geremew, and Kenya's Titus Ekiru). Defending champion Shura Kitata is the "slowest" of the bunch with a still-fast 2:04:49 personal best. Kitata, 25, rebooted his training after a hamstring problem forced him to drop out of the Olympic Marathon last August in Sapporo. He didn't get far; his last recorded split was at the 5-K mark.
"I was prepared very well before the Olympics," Kitata told reporters on a video conference this morning with the aid of a translator. "Two weeks before I got a hamstring injury. Otherwise, I am prepared very well to run on Sunday."
PHOTO: Shura Kitata speaking at the Virgin Money London Marathon pre-race press conference on September 29 (image via Zoom)
Kitata was the upset winner in London last year when the race was held on special 20-lap course for elite runners, only in St. James's Park behind high-security fencing. On a cold and rainy day, he not only defeated world record holder Eliud Kipchoge (who finished eighth), but prevailed in a three-man sprint in the homestretch. He beat Kenya's Vincent Kipchumba by just one second in 2:05:41.
"This is some great feeling," Kitata said after last year's race. "I want time for it to sink in. But, we always on our team and coach said one time we will beat Kipchoge, and it was today."
Despite being the third-fastest man in history and a two-time Tokyo Marathon winner (2019 and 2020), Legese isn't that well known. That's possibly because his spectacular 2:02:48 personal best was achieved in Berlin in 2019 when the race winner, Kenenisa Bekele, ran 2:01:41 and nearly broke the world record. Legese hasn't run a marathon since last December when he finished third at Valencia in 2:03:16. Pandemic lock-downs in Ethiopia hampered his training, he said.
"I was not able to go outside, for a very long period," he said through a statement provided by the NN Running Team for whom he competes. "I was not getting treatment. For even longer we could not train in a group. It is important to train with other strong athletes, to feel the energy from the group."
But on this morning's video conference, Legese expressed confidence in his preparations and said that having crowds along the course --permitted now in England-- would provide him with a boost.
"We are pleased now that everything is coming back to normal," he said through a translator. "We are looking forward to being cheered by the crowds... When people are standing for us it makes a big difference."
Also hoping for a big day is Kenya's Evans Chebet, who won in Valencia last year in a personal best 2:03:00. The 32 year-old athlete who runs for adidas, said that he hoped to lower his personal best and that his "motivation is to win." He is also aware of how these big races can come down to the final sprint.
"I know that the Ethiopians are used to staying behind a little bit until the last 200 or 400 meters," he said through a translator (he spoke in Swahili instead of English today). "I'm going to need a lot of strength at the end of the race."
Race organizers expect a field of nearly 40,000 for Sunday's race, and tens of thousands more plan to run the race "virtually." Prior to the pandemic, the 2019 edition of the Virgin Money London Marathon recorded a race record 42,485 finishers.