After injuries, Lel back for London Marathon

Updated: April 14, 2011, 12:37 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- Martin Lel has a chance to become the first man to win four London Marathons when he laces up his shoes on Sunday.

However, he's not convinced he'll be the victor because he's been sidelined by injures the last two years.

Lel has been bothered by hip and leg injuries, and only received an invitation to the race after Olympic champion Sammy Wanjiru withdrew because of a knee injury. It's the Kenyan's first London Marathon since winning his third title in 2008.

"The body is different after being out of racing for two years," said Lel, who asked organizers to let him run when his form improved. "I have told myself, 'Let me go and try.' I can only say I am happy to be here. ... I did not lose hope (because) I could feel in my training that I still have potential."

Lel set a course record of 2 hours, 5 minutes, 15 seconds in 2008, when he earned his second straight win and third in four years. Wanjiru shaved 5 seconds off that time the following year, and Lel said he doesn't expect to challenge the mark this year.

"For me, my (goal) is to feel I tried my best on Sunday," he said.

Even in Wanjiru's absence, there is no shortage of big names in the field, including defending champion Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia, world champion Abel Kirui and fellow Kenyan Patrick Makau. He won the Berlin Marathon last year and is competing in London for the first time.

Kebede sounded the most confident, promising to attack Wanjiru's course mark -- and possibly Haile Gebrselassie's world record of 2:03:59.

"It is possible, if the weather is nice," Kebede said. "You can do a 2:04, or even a 2:03. ... I think someday I will run (a world record time)."

Kirui is hoping to make up for a disappointing finish last year, when he was in the lead with Kebede but faltered over the last two miles and finished fifth.

"I realized my mistake," Kirui said. "I was pushing (too hard). This time I will be patient. I will control myself so I can (go fast) to the finish line."

Another likely challenger is the 38-year-old Jaouad Gharib of Morocco, the former world champion who was second in London in 2005 and has three third-place finishes -- including the last two years. While Kebede is 15 years younger than him, Gharib said he is confident of finally earning an elusive London title.

"I never think about my age," Gharib said through an interpreter. "What I believe in is my training. I know I haven't won the London Marathon, but that's why I am here again. My goal and my aim is to win it."

The race is expected to attract about 36,000 entries. Among the elite field, Lel isn't the only one who is happy for the chance to compete.

European champion Viktor Rothlin of Switzerland is making a remarkable comeback. He had a blood clot in 2009 caused two pulmonary embolisms in his lungs after a training camp in Kenya.

"In the hospital after I came back from Kenya, I wasn't even thinking about running," Rothlin said. "I was only thinking, 'Will I ever walk normally up the stairs, or even stay alive?"

After recovering from the illness, he needed heel surgery that year. But he earned his first major title at the European championships in Barcelona last August.

Running isn't his only talent. Having been brought up by what he called "old-fashioned" Swiss parents, Rothlin has been schooled in the country's traditional art of yodeling. He declined to give a demonstration, however -- at least until after the race on Sunday.

"If I run a European record," he said, "I will do yodeling."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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