Reigning London Marathon champion Shura Kitata has insisted he is ready to defend his title on Sunday despite being troubled by a hamstring injury.
The Ethiopian edged a sprint finish in the elite men’s race last October to topple the great Eliud Kipchoge, who had won the annual event in England’s capital on four occasions.
Kitata could not follow up a maiden London Marathon title with success at the Olympics this summer and pulled out in hot and humid conditions in Sapporo.
“I have some slight problems but still I am preparing to win and looking forward to it,” the 25-year-old said via a translator during Wednesday’s press conference.
“I was prepared very well before the Olympics and just two weeks before I had a hamstring injury, that was a big pressure for me. Otherwise I have prepared well and I am feeling confident to run on Sunday.
“The hamstring and the pain is not really easy and when it is a very fast speed, there might be some problem but I am looking forward to doing what I did before.”
Another sprint finish this year would raise doubts over the Ethiopian’s ability to clinch the event for a second time but he reflected on the life-changing experience of triumphing over Kipchoge, who bounced back to defend his Olympic title in August.
“I was very happy with the win last year and it had great meaning because Eliud is a very famous runner and a very strong runner so winning meant a lot,” Kitata added.
While Kipchoge will not be in London to try and regain his crown as he recovers following his exploits in Japan, the 36-year-old will no doubt be watching on from afar and backing countryman Evans Chebet.
The Kenyan will run the 26.2-mile course for the first time and hope to play his part in a long-standing rivalry with the Ethiopian runners, with only athletes from the two countries winning the event since 2002.
Chebet admitted: “The rivalry is there and I know the Ethiopians are used to staying behind a bit and kicking on for the last 200 or 300 metres. It will be a challenging race and I know I will need a lot of strength at the end to win.
“If Eliud is watching on Sunday, it will give me more to run faster but I have my times already and the goal is just to go for a personal best.
“For 2:02 or 2:03 maybe depending on condition but I am looking forward to the race. Eluid gives morale but I have my own interest and motivation to win.”
Kipchoge’s last win in London in 2019 saw the Kenyan break the course record to post a time of 2:02:37.
Birhanu Legese will be the fastest man in the field following his winning run of 2:02:48 at the 2019 Berlin Marathon and he hopes the return of a crowd this year will help him make history.
“It depends on the weather on the day. If the weather is good, I plan to break the record and that is my target now. This is what I am preparing for,” the Ethiopian and third fastest man in the world warned.
“We are pleased now everything is returning back to normal and we look forward to see the cheering of the crowd on the straight end. It will make us very happy.”
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed pacemakers will be involved on Sunday.
“There are pacemakers in the elite races as usual,” a London Marathon spokesman said.
“There will, however, be no pacers in the mass event as part of our Covid mitigations and this has been communicated to all participants.”