London Marathon switches to elite-athlete-only event

Elite races for men, women, and wheelchair athletes will take place on an enclosed looped course in St James's Park on October 4 in a secure biosphere
London Marathon switches to elite-athlete-only event
Eliud Kipchoge crossing the line to win the 2019 London Marathon. He has been confirmed for the 2020 event at St James's Park. Picture: Paul Harding

The 2020 London Marathon will be an elite-athlete only event, organisers have announced.

Elite races for men, women, and wheelchair athletes will take place on an enclosed looped course in St James's Park on October 4 in a secure biosphere, with the times counting towards Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification.

Athletes confirmed for the race include Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, women's world record holder Brigid Kosgei, and para athletes David Weir and Manuela Schar.

No spectators will be allowed at the 40th London Marathon, but BBC Sport will broadcast coverage of the race, encompassing 19.8 laps around the park and finishing in the traditional place on the Mall.

"Today is a day of sadness, but also I think it's a day of certainty," event director Hugh Brasher said, hailing the "inclusivity" of the new-look race.

"It's a day where we're announcing what is appropriate — we think — for the 40th race. It's certainly not something we ever expected to do."

He added: "We hope people will get inspiration from the gods of our sport still battling it out over those 26.2 miles in the only world marathon race that is taking place in the fall.

"And still having Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Brigid Kosgei, Manuela Schar, David Weir... they'll take the inspiration from those athletes, on the journey that will be incredibly personal to them. We will celebrate that journey from a distance, but in spirit, together."

Those who had planned to take part in the event — originally postponed from April 26 to October due to the coronavirus pandemic — have been offered the option to defer their places to the 2021, 2022 or 2023 events.

The 41st race in 2021 is also set to take place in the autumn, on October 3, to give people more certainty and confidence in the event going ahead.

Additionally, 45,000 people who were supposed to take part in the event in the spring will take part in a "virtual race" across the world, receiving a finisher's medal and T-shirt for completing the 26.2-mile distance from home anywhere in the world within 24 hours on October 4.

Brasher said: "We believe it's the greatest marathon in the world, the greatest athletes in the world are still coming, and we hope that Britain gets behind the 45,000 who will run or walk that 26.2 miles on October 4.

"And in that journey, one of the pieces to celebrate in a way — is that actually this will make it the most inclusive London marathon, we believe, in history — because people have 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds in which to take part."

In 2019, the event raised a record-breaking £66.4m for charitable causes, and Brasher said £20m had been raised for good causes this year at the time of cancellation.

Mark Brider, chief executive of Children with Cancer UK, said: "Bringing in over £3 million worth of donations a year, the Virgin Money London Marathon is Children with Cancer UK's largest single fundraising event, so we are of course extremely disappointed to hear the news that the Marathon will not be taking place in its usual format.

"This must have been an incredibly difficult decision for organisers to take, however the welfare and safety of marathon participants, including our team of over 1,200 runners who signed up to run for Children with Cancer UK, comes first."

In the wake of the announcement British Athletics says it will be "a priority to explore all options and review plans regarding selection" for next year's Olympics. The selection of athletes for the marathon will occur in 2021.

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