Champions back in London to defend their titles

British capital set to play host to one of the best marathon fields ever 05 Feb 2013
David Weir and Shelly Woods with Prince Harry

Great Britain's David Weir and Shelly Woods, winners of the 2012 Virgin London Marathon

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“I don’t really want to stop when I’m equal with anyone; I’d like to be the main man, to get seven titles."

Great Britain’s David Weir and Shelly Woods will defend their Virgin London Marathon wheelchair titles on Sunday 21 April 2013 when they return to the capital to race against one of the best marathon fields ever assembled.

Just seven months after the success of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, London’s streets will once again host the fast and furious sport of wheelchair racing with the British pair seeking to repeat their success from 12 months’ ago.

Weir equalled Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson’s record of six London Marathon victories in 2012, and is hoping to add a seventh this year to become the most successful male or female wheelchair racer in the event’s history.

“Winning a seventh London Marathon would be up there with all my Paralympic titles,” said Weir. “I don’t really want to stop when I’m equal with anyone; I’d like to be the main man, to get seven titles.

“It was my dream when I was young to win the London Marathon. It was the one race that I most wanted to win in my career. Now I’ve done it six times, and I never get bored of it.”

Weir followed his win last April with four brilliant gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. He took his fourth gold in the marathon with a thrilling sprint finish, pulling ahead of Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, who took silver, and defending Paralympic marathon champion Kurt Fearnley of Australia. All three medalists will line up again at the 2013 Virgin London Marathon.

They will face stiff competition from nine-time Boston Marathon winner Ernst Van Dyk. Despite van Dyk’s dominance in Boston, the South African has never won the London Marathon, finishing second in 2000 and third in 2009. He has represented South Africa in every Paralympics since the Barcelona Games in 1992 and shows no signs of slowing down.

Canada’s Josh Cassidy will be a real contender too after winning the 2012 Boston Marathon in the world’s fastest time of one hour 18 minutes 25 seconds, although it’s not an official record because Boston is a downhill course. Cassidy won the London Marathon title in 2010, and will be looking to do the double in April when he competes in both Boston and London within a week.

The men’s field also includes the official wheelchair marathon world record holder, Heinz Frei of Switzerland, who won three London Marathon titles in the 1990s. London 2012 Paralympic marathoners Masazumi Soejima and Nobukazu Hanaoka of Japan are also in the field, as is Saul Mendoza of Mexico, London champion in 2004 and 2005.

In the women’s race, Woods will be looking to win her third London Marathon title when she defends her crown against a world class field after taking a silver medal in the Paralympic marathon.

The talented 10-strong line-up features many of the Paralympians Woods faced in September, including gold medalist Shirley Reilly of the USA, the 2012 Boston Marathon champion, and bronze medalist Sandra Graf of Switzerland, who was London champion in 2008.

Amanda McGrory of the USA, will be looking to reclaim the London title she won in 2009 and 2011 after finishing fourth at the Paralympic Games. Five-time Boston winner Wakako Tsuchida of Japan will be aiming to repeat her 2010 victory, while two-time Chicago champion Tatyana McFadden is chasing her first London win.

A number of the world’s leading Paralympic athletics will also be competing in the IPC World Marathon Cup to be held as part of the Virgin London Marathon for the first time. This will involve races for male athletes in classes T42-46 (amputees) and T11-13 (visual impairment).

Britain’s Richard Whitehead will be one of the favourites in the T42-46 race. Whitehead won a gold medal in the T42 200m at the Paralympic Games in London, but he also holds world records for double amputees in the full and half marathon. Whitehead’s marathon record stands at 2:42:52, but he’ll be up against Tino Sena of Brazil who clocked 2:30:40 to win the T46 marathon gold at London 2012.

The race for visually impaired athletes will pitch the London Paralympic T12 silver and bronze medallists, Elkin Serna of Colombia and Abderrahim Zhiou of Tunisia, against T11 athletes Yuichi Takahashi of Japan and Carlos Ferreira of Portugal. Takahashi won marathon gold at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, while Ferreira was the Sydney champion in 2000.