(16-Feb) -- Organizers of the Virgin London Marathon announced today that double Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah would start their race on Sunday, April, 21, but only complete half of it. Race officials said the 29 year-old athlete would "test himself against the best in the world while becoming familiar with the London course" in advance of making his actual marathon debut at their event in 2014.
"I will make my marathon debut in the 2014 London Marathon but will run the 2013 race to halfway as part of my preparation for 2014," Farah said in a statement. "It will allow me to understand the course and the systems I will need when I run the full distance."
In allowing Farah to start the race, but announcing he does not plan to finish it, London race director Hugh Brasher will effectively be getting Farah's coveted marathon debut, twice. For the largely domestic television audience which will watch the race on the BBC, Farah's presence will nearly ensure high ratings for both 2013 and 2014. After last summer's Olympic Games, Farah is one of the most popular athletes in all of British sport.
Domestic interest in the Virgin London Marathon reached its peak when Paula Radcliffe was in her prime (she won the race three times between 2002 and 2005), and last year's race had the drama of the British Olympic team selection process where Britain's Lee Merrien, Claire Hallissey, and Freya Murray all eventually gained Olympic Games berths through their runs in London. Radcliffe was the event's last British champion in 2005, but the last time a British man won the race was in 1993 when England's Eamonn Martin crossed the finish line first in 2:10:50. Farah would be the first legitimate British contender for the overall victory since Welshman Jon Brown, who finished fourth in 1999 and sixth in 2005.
Farah, a West Londoner, has had a long relationship with the Virgin London Marathon and previous race director Dave Bedford. Farah is a former student at St. Mary's University College and, organizers said, he lived in a house bought by the London Marathon for St. Mary's. As a schoolboy, Farah won the London Mini Marathon three years in a row from 1998 through 2000. An important endurance sports training center is housed at St. Mary's which the Marathon helps fund.
"To run as the double Olympic champion makes it even more special," concluded Farah. "Dave Bedford and the London Marathon have always been there for me and it will be my pleasure to run my first marathon in London."
The Virgin London Marathon will be the third stop of the World Marathon Majors during 2013, preceded by Tokyo on February 24 and Boston on April 15.