A long-awaited return of marathon action will take off on Sunday (4 October), as the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon welcomes back top wheelchair racing names.
The competition will be shown live on World Para Athletics Facebook page at 2:00 PM (Central European Summer Time - CEST)*.
Having been postponed in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunday’s format will feature a closed-loop circuit around St. James’s Park in central London opposed to the traditional street circuit. But the iconic finish on The Mall remains.
With last year’s winner Daniel Romanchuk absent, Great Britain's David Weir will be hoping to add a ninth victory but will have to fend off Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, who has won in London twice in 2014 and 2016.
“I am really excited for the race,” Hug said. “It is really special to compete again as it is my first international competition after the lockdown period. It is great to be in London and see some familiar faces again. I am very thankful for having the chance to compete in such a special event this year together with the running elite athletes.”
The Swiss expects the new course to bring additional challenges and excitement to the race.
“The course this year is very different from previous years, a flat course. So, it might be fast, but it is difficult to say as it depends on the weather and on how much we have to slow down because of the turns. Also, it’s more difficult to attack and break away from the other competitors so it will probably be a very tactical race,” added Hug.
A different year and a different season will also play a role in the race, according to the Rio 2016 Paralympic champion.
“We don’t know how strong the others are because we haven’t seen each for long time with races being cancelled due to COVID-19. It will be very interesting to see on Sunday, I am really excited and looking forward to the marathon,” Hug said.
A total of 12 male wheelchair racers will line up, including Japan’s Sho Watanabe, who took second at the Tokyo Marathon in March, which was open only for elite athletes; and Canada’s four-time Paralympic medallist Brent Lakatos, who plans to take on Hug and Weir for the victory.
“I absolutely love racing,” Lakatos told Athletics Canada. “I have been looking forward to the London Marathon all summer.”
“My training has been going quite well recently, which has given me a lot of confidence. When my confidence is high, I believe that I can take on the world and win.”
Schaer defending women's title
Manuela Schaer will try to adjust to the new race format and defend her title from last year, and add a third overall London Marathon victory. The Swiss won nine consecutive World Marathon Majors but the pandemic spoiled that streak when she missed the Tokyo Marathon.
In the women’s field of seven, British racer Shelly Woods appears to give Schaer the biggest battle. Woods crossed the finish line first in the 2007 and 2012, and will make her first appearance in a race following the birth of her son.
USA's Jenna Fesemyer is another wheelchair racer returning to action after 11 months without competition.
"I feel so thankful for the opportunity to race on the road with competitors compared to racing virtually or on rollers. I wasn't sure if I would see an in-person race in 2020, so I am excited to be in London," the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games champion said.
"I'm anticipating a lot of congestion around the corners as athletes will be vying for the best line. It's going to be a good combination of wanting the best line and finding the right acceleration to be able to corner efficiently and effectively, but I am ready for the challenge," Fesemyer added.
The men’s and women’s wheelchair races at the Virgin Money London Marathon will feature the new Abbott World Marathon Majors Accumulator sprint competition.
There will be four sprints within each race (men’s and women’s) over a distance of 539 metres in the clockwise circuits of the course.
The athlete who records the fastest time over each sprint (who will not necessarily be the first athlete to complete the sprint) will win prize money in a “winner takes all” format. The same sum will be awarded to the charity of the athlete’s choice (each will select from a list of United Kingdom-registered charities that work with Para sport).
The sprints will be held at the start of Lap 5 (15 laps to go), start of Lap 9 (11 laps to go), start of Lap 13 (7 laps to go) and start of Lap 18 (2 laps to go).
More information on the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon can be found on their website.
* Except Africa, Latin America, Middle East, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand.