This year’s London Marathon, scheduled for October 4, will bring us the much awaited contest between marathon greats Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) and Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia). But the 2020 edition of the race will be an elites-only affair.
“ After months of intensive work and consultation with London’s authorities, organisers today confirmed the plans for The 40th Race on Sunday 4 October 2020. Elite races for men, women and wheelchair athletes will take place on an enclosed looped course in St James’s Park in a secure biosphere (a contained safe environment like that of Formula 1 and England cricket) and times will be eligible for Olympic qualification.
“ The long-awaited head-to-head between Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) and Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia) will headline the men’s race and world record holder Brigid Kosgei (Kenya) heads the women’s field. Manuela Schär (Switzerland) and David Weir lead the wheelchair fields. There will be no spectator access to maintain the biosphere but BBC Sport plans to broadcast eight hours of coverage during the day. (Please note: access to most of St James’s Park will be maintained for local residents and park users.),’’ an official statement dated August 6, 2020, available on the website of the London Marathon, said.
It added, “ Everyone with a place in the 2020 event will still have the chance to take part in The 40th Race by running the famous 26.2 mile marathon distance from home or anywhere in the world on the course of their choice. All finishers will receive the coveted finisher medal and New Balance finisher T-shirt. In addition, all runners and charities will also be able to defer their place to a future London Marathon – in 2021, 2022 or 2023.’’
Earlier this year in March, the 2020 edition of the Tokyo Marathon was run as an elites-only affair. That event – the first major running event to embrace the elites-only option since COVID-19 began to spread – happened some days before the disease was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Thereafter, the issue of going elites-only for 2020 has been among formats studied by major marathons. While many chose to cancel and wait for better times, some indication of the direction London may take was available in a July 28 statement from World Athletics, wherein the apex body for athletics worldwide said that the London Marathon would be among races, athletes wishing to run the marathon at the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (now set for the summer of 2021) can participate in and hope to qualify.
Thursday’s statement from London Marathon quoted Hugh Brasher, Event Director as saying, “ We have been working for months on a number of different scenarios with the health and safety of our runners, our charities, our sponsors, our volunteers, our medics, our communities and our city always our priority. We had detailed plans to deliver a socially distanced mass participation event – either a run or a walk – and we were planning to utilise new technology to do this. We were looking to use a revolutionary technology using Bluetooth and ultra wideband ranging, which is about to be launched worldwide. This would have enabled us to accurately monitor every participant’s distance from each other, work out if the participant spent more than 15 minutes within 1.5 metres (or any distance we set) of anyone else and then contact them post-event if anyone had informed us that they had contracted Covid-19 in the two weeks after the event. Despite all our efforts, the fantastic support from all of our partners and the progress that has been made on planning for the return of smaller mass participation events that are not on the roads, it has not been possible to go ahead with a mass socially distanced walk or run.
“ In parallel with the work on the plans for the socially distanced mass event, we had a team working on planning the elite races for men, women and wheelchair athletes in a biosphere environment in St James’s Park and another team creating a truly inspiring Virgin Money London Marathon which means participants across the UK and abroad can still be part of The 40th Race from their home or wherever they might be on 4 October.’’
Participants in the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will have 24 hours to complete the 26.2 miles, from 00:00 to 23:59 on Sunday 4 October. They can run, walk, take breaks and log their race on a new London Marathon app being developed by event partner TCS. Runners can also use their time, with appropriate supporting evidence, to apply for a Good for Age or Championship place in 2021.
In 2021, the event will move from its usual April date to Sunday 3 October to give the best chance for the mass race to return in 2021, the official statement said.
More details are available on the event website.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)