Reigning world champion Hug edged out Weir by the length of his wheel in last year’s scintillating sprint finish, denying the six-times Paralympic gold medallist a record seventh London Marathon title in his 15th consecutive appearance at the event.
Weir equalled Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s record of six London Marathon victories in 2012, and has been targeting a seventh ever since. But the Briton had to settle for fifth two years ago and lost out to Hug last April as the Swiss racer added a first London Marathon crown to the five gold medals he won at the Lyon 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships.
Prize money for the 2015 men’s and women’s wheelchair races has been boosted by a total of $16,250. The traditional T53/54 events are just two of the IPC Athletics World Championship marathons being staged as part of the London Marathon this year ahead of the track and field programme to come in Doha, Qatar, this October.
More than 100 world-class para-athletes will compete for their countries in the eight marathon races. Weir, who missed last summer’s IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea, can’t wait to compete for Britain again.
“Just a second separated the top three last year and I’m sure it’s going to go down to the wire again in 2015,” said Weir. “It would mean a lot to get the record-breaking seventh in London and win gold for the British team, but first and foremost I’m focused on ensuring I’m in the best possible condition at the end of April and ready to attack the race.
“It was heart-breaking having to pull out of the team for the Europeans last summer, but I’m really looking forward to getting back in a GB vest to test myself against the very best in the world. We’re going to have the home support behind us and if we can deliver it will be a real boost for the team ahead of Doha in October.”
Hug won’t be the only racer trying to stop the 35-year-old ‘Weirwolf’, however, for the elite field is the biggest in London Marathon history and packed with champions – athletes such as official world record holder Heinz Frei, the Swiss who won three London titles in the 1990s; Canada’s 2010 London champion Josh Cassidy, who produced the quickest wheelchair marathon ever in Boston three years ago; and 10-times Boston Marathon winner Ernst van Dyk, the South African star who is still seeking his first London win.
The field also includes the 2013 world silver and bronze medallists, Tomasz Hamerlak of Poland and Kota Hokinoue, one of seven Japanese racers in the line-up, while Joshua George leads the US challenge just six months after winning the Chicago Marathon for a fourth time.
US racers will be to the fore in the women’s event too as Tatyana McFadden targets her third consecutive London Marathon victory after breaking the course record in both 2013 and 2014. The triple Paralympic champion will be an overwhelming favourite to take the crown again this April. She celebrated her 24th birthday with her first win two years ago and dominated the event last April when she crossed the finish line more than a minute and a half ahead of her nearest rival.
McFadden won a record six gold medals on the track at the 2013 World Championships and has been unbeatable in the marathon over the last two years winning repeat titles in Boston, Chicago and New York, as well as London. In 2013, she became the first athlete, disabled or otherwise, to win those four major marathons in a single year while last winter she swapped her racing chair for a sit-ski to win a silver medal in the 1km cross country event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics.
Among McFadden’s opponents will be four talented US teammates, including the London 2012 Paralympic champion, Shirley Reilly, and the 2009 and 2011 London Marathon champion, Amanda McGrory, who was a close second in 2013.
Wakako Tsuchida of Japan is the fastest woman on paper and the five-times Boston winner will be looking to regain the title she won in 2010. Paralympic bronze medallist Sandra Graf aims to repeat her 2008 victory, while her Swiss colleague Manuela Schär hopes to retain the World Championship crown after finishing second to McFadden in London, Chicago and New York in 2014.
Shelly Woods is again Britain’s big hope for a medal. The Paralympic silver medallist could only finish sixth in London last year but she was a commanding winner in 2012 and will be pushing for her third victory. Woods will be joined by Jade Jones, the 19-year-old three-times Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon winner who dipped under two hours on her full marathon debut a year ago.
The rest of the IPC Athletics World Championship races are equally compelling with reigning world champions and IPC World Cup winners in every event, not to mention numerous world record holders and Paralympic gold medallists.
El Amin Chentouf returns to London to defend his world title in the T11/12 race for visually impaired runners. The Moroccan has won IPC Athletics World Cup races here for the last two years, breaking the T12 world record on his debut in 2013. He will face the London 2012 Paralympic gold and silver medallists, Spain’s Alberto Suarez Laso and Elkin Serna Moreno of Colombia, plus the two-times T11 world champion, Christian Valenzuela from Chile.
Spain’s Maria Paredes Rodriguez goes for gold in the women’s T11/12 race on the course where she smashed her own T12 world record last year, becoming the first visually impaired woman to run a marathon in under three hours. The incredible 52-year-old will face a tough challenge this time from Japan’s Misato Michishita who was runner-up in 2014 but finished the year as world number one.
London-based New Zealander Tim Prendergast, a former world and Paralympic 800m champion, goes in the T13 event where his opponents include US ultra-runner Jason Romero and Youssef Benibrahim of Morocco, the Beijing Paralympic silver medallist.
In the races for athletes with limb impairments, Italy’s Alessandro di Lello looks to retain his T45/46 World Championship crown against Brazil’s Paralympic champion Tito Sena, who beat him in London last year, and London 2012 silver medallist Abderrahman Ait Khamouch. Britain’s world and Paralympic sprint champion Richard Whitehead runs as a guest in the T42-44 race where Israel’s Eitan Hermon will target the T44 world record.
The T51/52 wheelchair event pitches Spain’s 2014 World Cup champion Santiago Sanz against Raymond Martin of USA, the man he beat by two seconds 12 months ago. Martin won four Paralympic titles on the track in 2012, and five world titles in 2013. Former rugby player Rob Smith will be looking to break his national record as he races for Britain.
Virgin Money London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher welcomed the addition of the IPC Athletics World Championship races to the event in 2015.
He said: “The London Marathon has been at the forefront of efforts to develop elite marathon events for wheelchair athletes for over 30 years. With the addition of the IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup held here in 2013 and 2014 this was extended to ambulatory elite para-athletes. So when we were asked to stage to the IPC Athletics World Championship marathons this year we were delighted to accept and look forward to welcoming the world’s top para-athletes to the event in April.”
Entry lists for all the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championship marathons can be found in the Media Resources section of the London Marathon website: www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com.