By Mike Rowbottom

Kenenisa Bekele, pictured en route to victory in his marathon debut in Paris last year, has had to drop out of this year's London race with injury ©Getty ImagesThis year's Virgin London Marathon field lost and gained today as it was announced that world 5,000 and 10,000 metres record holder Kenenisa Bekele has pulled out, but that the Kenyan who once held the unofficial world best time over 26.2 miles, Geoffrey Mutai, had been signed up.

Bekele's Ethiopian compatriot Aselefech Mergia, winner of the Dubai Marathon in January for a record third time, has been added to the women's elite field for the 35th anniversary races on Sunday April 26.

Race director Hugh Brasher welcomed all the new additions.

"Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, it has," he said.

"In most marathons around the world Geoffrey Mutai and Aselefech Mergia would be headline names in their own right.

"While, of course, we are disapppointed to lose Kenenisa, we are delighted to have added Geoffrey and Aselefech to our already bursting fields and welcome them back to London along with all our elite athletes.

"With these 'fantasy' fields, Paula Radcliffe's farewell run, and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) Athletics World Championship marathons as well, our 35th anniversary promises to be a very special day."

Kenya's former unofficial world marathon record holder Geoffrey Mutai, pictured after winning the 2011 New York marathon, has been added to the field for this year's London Marathon ©AFP/Getty ImagesKenya's former unofficial world marathon record holder Geoffrey Mutai, pictured after winning the 2011 New York marathon, has been added to the field for this year's London Marathon ©AFP/Getty Images

Bekele, who broke the Paris Marathon course record on his debut at the distance last April, has been forced to withdraw with a right Achilles tendon injury sustained during the Dubai Marathon.

"Unfortunately, I have had to pull out of this year's Virgin Money London Marathon because of the problems I had while running in Dubai," said Bekele.

"I desperately wanted to run in London this year, but the injury to my Achilles has not healed sufficiently for me to compete against such a great field.

"I hope to be back in 2016 and ready to challenge the best marathon runners in the world in London."

Despite the Ethiopian's withdrawal, the men's line-up remains one of the best ever seen,

Mutai, twice a winner of the New York City Marathon in recent years and victor at the 2012 Berlin Marathon, famously set an unofficial world best when he won the 2011 Boston Marathon in 2 hours 03min 02sec, although the time was not acceptable for official records because of the downhill course.

The 2011-2012 World Marathon Majors champion joins a field brimming over with talent.

It features the first ever marathon meeting between world record holder Dennis Kimetto and defending London champion Wilson Kipsang, plus the second fastest marathon runner in history, Emmanuel Mutai, the reigning Chicago Marathon champion, Eliud Kipchoge, and last year's London Marathon runner-up Stanley Biwott.

The line-up contains the three fastest marathon runners of all time, and six of the 10 quickest men in history, while Geoffrey Mutai, who has a legitimate personal best of 2:04:15, is one of only nine men to have run the distance in under 2:05.

A training partner of Kipsang and Kimetto, the 33-year-old was due to compete at the Tokyo Marathon on February 22, but had to withdraw from that race because of a niggling injury and instead has prepared himself to compete with the rest of the world's best in London.

The race field has already described as "ridiculously good" and "fantasy track and field" by the influential Let's Run website.

Ethiopia's Aselefech Mergia won the Dubai Marathon for the third time in January ©Getty ImagesEthiopia's Aselefech Mergia won the Dubai Marathon for the third time in January
©Getty Images

Mergia won her third Dubai title after  returning from pregnancy.

Her personal best of 2:19:31 makes her the third quickest on paper in a women's field containing the last three London Marathon champions - Edna Kiplagat, Mary Keitany and Priscah Jeptoo - plus last year's runner-up, the world half marathon record holder Florence Kiplagat.

Mergia will take on Kenya's fab four in London alongside fellow Ethiopian Tirfi Tsegaye, the 2014 Tokyo and Berlin Marathon champion, another new addition to the talented roster.

Tsegaye broke the course record when she won the Tokyo Marathon 13 months ago, and ran a personal best of 2:20:18 to take victory in Berlin last September.

While this will be Tsegaye's London Marathon debut, Mergia runs for the third time having reached the podium on her first appearance in 2010.

The addition of these two champions means the race now features four women who have run quicker than 2:20 and eight who have broken 2:21.

Another new name further down the women's list which features in the second wave of entry announcements is that of Elvan Abeylegesse, the Ethiopian-born Turk who won Olympic silver medals at 5,000m and 10,000m in Beijing 2008, and earned a 5,000/10,000m double on the track at the 2010 European Championships. 

A former world record holder at 5,000m, she moved up to the marathon two years ago and finished fifth at last summer's European Championships in Zürich.

The 32-year-old will be hoping to make her breakthrough at top level in her first World Marathon Majors race.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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