London Marathon 2021 – Elite Women’s Preview

Sunday 3rd October will see some of the finest athletes on planet earth take to the streets of London. We preview the field for the London Marathon Elite Women, see if stats can predict the winner and give our predictions for who will take the London crown.

For our elite men’s preview click here.

How fast is the London marathon for elite women?

Based on winning times since 2007 there isn’t a quicker world marathon major in women’s marathon running. London takes the title and has been on average 24 seconds quicker than Berlin.

WomenBerlinBostonChicagoLondonNew York Tokyo
Average Winning Time Since 200702:20:5602:27:1202:22:5202:20:3202:23:0002:25:08

Who is in the elite women field for the 2021 London Marathon?

The 2021 London marathon field for the elite women is as follows:

AthleteCountryPersonal Best (and where they ran it)
Brigid KosgeiKenya02:14:04 WR (Chicago 2019)
Roza DerejeEthiopia02:18:30 (Valencia 2019)
Birhane DibabaEthiopia02:18:35 (Tokyo 2020)
Joyciline JepkosgeiKenya02:18:40 (Valencia 2020)
Valary JemeliKenya02:19:10 (Frankfurt 2019)
Degitu AzimerawEthiopia02:19:26 (Amsterdam 2019)
Zeineba YimerEthiopia02:19:28 (Valencia 2019)
Tigist GirmaEthiopia02:19:52 (Amsterdam 2019)
Ashete BekereEthiopia02:20:14 (Berlin 2019)
Alemu MegertuEthiopia02:21:10 (Frankfurt 2019)
Sinead DiverAustralia02:24:11 (London 2019)
Allie KiefferUSA02:28:12 (New York 2018)
Moira StewartovaCzech Republic02:29:28 (May 2021)

Is it possible to predict the elite women’s London Marathon winner for 2021?

Picking a winner based on patterns is difficult for the women with a few statistical surprises over the years. This is unlike the men where a few parameters seems to have decided a select few who are capable of winning.

YearAthlete Winning TimePersonal Best pre-race Best performance in Two Years Pre-Race
2020Brigid Kosgei2.18.582.14.04 (Chicago, 2019)2.14.04 (Chicago, 2019)
2019Brigid Kosgei2. (Chicago, 2018)2.18.35 (Chicago, 2018)
2018Vivian Cheruiyot2.18.312.23.35 (Frankfurt, 2017)2.23.35 (Frankfurt, 2017)
2017Mary Keitany2. (London, 2012)2.23.40 (London 2015)
2016Jemima Sumgong2.22.582.20.41 (Boston, 2014)2.20.41 (Boston, 2014)
2015Tigist Tufa2. (Shanghai, 2014)2.21.52 (Shanghai, 2014)
2014Edna Kiplagat2. (London, 2012)2.19.50 (London, 2012)
2013Priscah Jeptoo2. (London, 2012)2.20.14 (London, 2012)
2012Mary Keitany2.18.372.19.19 (London, 2011)2.19.19 (London, 2011)
2011Mary Keitany2. (New York, 2010)2.29.01 (New York, 2010)
2010Aselefech Mergia2.22.382.25.02 (Paris, 2009)2.25.02 (Paris, 2009)
2009Irina Mikitenko2. (Berlin, 2008)2.19.19 (Berlin, 2008)
2008Irina Mikitenko2. (Berlin 2007)2.24.51 (Berlin 2007)
2007Zhou Chunxiu2.20.382.19.51 (Seoul, 2006)2.19.51 (Seoul, 2006)

The winner will have to run under 2.25

Every previous winner has done so by running below 2.25 with Irina Mikitenko’s 2.24.14 the slowest in the last 14 editions. Six of the fourteen and each of the last four have seen sub 2.20 clockings.

Is a previous fast personal best an indicator for London glory?

Usually yes but the women’s field has yielded some pretty interesting exceptions. Half of the winners have gone into the race with personal bests below 2.20 with all but two of the rest having sub 2.25 clockings prior to the race. More often than not London winners have run fast elsewhere before.

The first exception is Aselefech Mergia in 2010, who had run 2.25.02 the previous year. Mergia was third through the line in London but was upgraded after doping violations from Liliya Shobukhova and Inga Abitova, both of Russia. Shobukhova herself had a 2.25.56 personal best prior to the race.

Mary Keitany, not for the first time, is the notable exception. Keitany came into the 2011 edition with one marathon under her belt, a 2.29.01 clocking to finish third in the 2010 New York City Marathon. She was also the fastest women in history over the half-marathon at the time with 1.05.50 in winning the 2011 Ras-Al-Khaimah half. Such a feat is mind-boggling to think in a pre-super-shoe era. Keitany’s 2011 win therefore did not come totally out of the blue.

The Kenyan’s 2.19.19 in 2011 made her the joint fourth fastest women in history at the time.

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Is recent form an indicator for London?

Every past winner has come to London with some clear form. Aselefech Mergia, despite only running 2.25.02, came to London with a bronze medal from the World Championships in Berlin the previous year. Keitany we have discussed.

The next slowest in terms of times run in the two years prior to the race is Irina Mikitenko‘s first win in 2008. The German went on to post one of the fastest marathon times in history (fourth all time when she won in Berlin later that year, 2.19.19) but hadn’t yet had a clear breakthrough. London in 2008 was her second marathon after a 2.24.51 debut to finish second in Berlin in 2007.

The next slowest in terms of form is Vivian Cheruiyot whose 2018 win came in only her second year as a marathoner. It is difficult to argue against the credentials of the Kenyan star who was less than two years on from 5,000 gold in Rio. Her two previous marathon had been fourth in London in 2017 (2.23.50) and a win in Frankfurt later that year (2.23.35).

Surprise winners rarely, if ever, win the London Marathon.

Who are the favourites in the elite women field for the 2021 London Marathon?

Ten different women, all from Ethiopia and Kenya all can count themselves as in with a shot of London glory but some have stronger chances than most.

In the absence of Peres Jepchirchir, Brigid Kosgei is a clear favourite and will look for her third London crown. The marathon world record holder won silver in Tokyo and is the defending champ from 2020. That she ran 2.18.58 in such difficult conditions last year shows just how good Brigid Kosgei is. The biggest challenge may be how she has recovered just eight weeks on from her Olympic marathon.

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For my money Joyciline Jepkosgei may be the second favourite. Jepkosgei recently showed form to win the Berlin Half Marathon in August (1.05.16) and was second in Valencia at the end of 2020 (2.18.40). The Kenyan has not yet raced a marathon this year but will head into the race with confidence.

Roza Dereje will head up the Ethiopian challenge. Dereje was fourth in Tokyo (2020) in her first marathon since winning in Valencia in late 2019 (2.18.30). Dereje finished third in London in 2019 in 2.20.51 and was second in Chicago in 2018 (2.21.18).

Compatriot Birhane Dibaba is a great marathon runner on her day but has been inconsistent of late. Her 2.18.35 came in finishing second to Lornah Salpeter in Tokyo in 2020 but she has since come ninth in Valencia (2.23.50). Dibaba failed to finish in the Olympic Marathon in Sapporo in August. She was ninth on her last visit to London in 2019 (2.25.04) and won Tokyo in 2018 (2.19.51).

The outsiders for the women’s title?

Valary Jemeli at her best is difficult to beat, a fact she showed in winning Frankfurt in autumn 2019 (2.19.10). The Kenyan has not, however, been at the level since. 10th in London last year (2.28.18) she was third in Prague earlier this year (2.22.39) and only 22nd in Eldoret in June (2.39.09).

Degitu Azimeraw is yet to race in 2021 but finished fifth in Valencia at the end of 2020 (2.19.56). The Ethiopian won in Amsterdam in 2019 (2.19.26) and is my one to watch. Aged just twenty-two she is yet to put a foot wrong in two appearances at the marathon.

Zeineba Yimer got the nod for the third Tokyo Olympic slot for Ethiopia and nudged Azimeraw into fifth in Valencia (2.19.54). She failed to finish in Tokyo perhaps with half an eye on an autumn marathon. Fourth in the World Half Marathon champs last year (1.05.39) her personal best comes from Valencia in 2019 (2.19.28). Like Azimeraw, Yimer is young at twenty-three and has all the signs of consistent progression to indicate she will challenge for years to come.

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Those in with a chance?

Tigist Girma will need some improvement to find herself in title contention but has experience of winning big city marathons. A winner in Guangzhou in 2018 she has won in Beirut (2017) and Ottowa (2019). Her personal best comes in finishing second to Azimeraw in the 2019 Amsterdam marathon (2.19.52).

Fourth placer in London from 2020 (2.22.51) Ashete Bekeru is yet to race in 2021 but won Berlin in 2019 (2.20.14). That day in 2019 she beat Mare Dibaba and could be in the mix for a second World Marathon major this time round.

The final female who may have her eyes on the top prize is former Rome marathon winner Alemu Megertu. Her 2.21.10 best comes from finishing second in Frankfurt in 2019. Her last outing was a 2.24.23 clocking in finishing fifth in London last year.

Our predictions

Kenya has a great tradition in the women’s elite field. I see little reason why that won’t continue on 3rd October.

  1. Brigid Kosgei
  2. Joyciline Kepkosgei
  3. Roza Dereje

Like our preview of the field for the elite women at London marathon 2021? Feel free to share and spread the love!

Featured image “London Marathon – Edna Kiplagat” by Winniepix is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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