Abbott World Marathon Majors – what’s next?

On the 24th August 2021 it was announced that the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon had become a candidate race for the World Marathon Majors. This prompted lots of questions about the Majors and the Six-star medal, and speculation that there are now Seven stars. This news does not change anything for the World Marathon Majors, and won’t for at least 3 years. It also isn’t the first announcement of this kind. In fact this is the 3rd race to be announced as a candidate race, although there are only 2 in the running now. In this blog post I will provide a brief overview of what the World Marathon Majors are, what it means to be a candidate race, and speculation on what’s next.

What are the World Marathon Majors

The Abbott World Marathon Majors began in 2006 and is seen across the world as a collection of the most prestigious marathons. Initially designed for competition amongst elite athletes, the World Marathon Majors appeals across the world for experienced and novice runners alike.

The World Marathon Majors are a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: London Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, Boston Marathon and Tokyo Marathon (which joined the series in 2013). There is a points based, championship competition in order to rank the best Marathon runners in the world. The organisers of these events work together to advance the sport, raise awareness of its elite athletes and increase the level of interest in competitive marathon running.

For those of us that aren’t elite athletes there is now the Abbott WMM Wanda Age Group World Rankings and the Global Run Club. The main goal for many is to complete all of the Majors and become a six-star finisher. Every person who completes all six of the World Marathon Majors receives the exclusive Six-star medal.

World Marathon Majors

I have been fortunate to have finished 4 of the 6 World Marathon Majors so far, and you can see my race reviews for: London Marathon; Berlin Marathon; Chicago Marathon; New York City Marathon. I have been an official Pacer at all 4 events. I would love to be an Official Pacer at Tokyo Marathon, and Boston Marathon is the only Major not to use pacers, as keeping with their tradition.

My World Marathon Majors

I had meant to complete Tokyo Marathon in 2020 before it was cancelled because of Covid. The aim was to get the Boston Qualifier, but both still remain an ambition. For those living outside of the UK, London Marathon may be the hardest to gain entry for. With a ballot system (as with all the majors), it is harder for international runners, but still very difficult for those in the UK too. If you are a fast runner, “Good For Age” you will find it easier to get a place in many of the Majors. For many Boston can feel like the hardest to gain entry as it does not rely on ballot luck or charity entry, instead runners aim for a Boston Qualification time, which is exceptionally difficult. There are ways of getting entry for every event outside of Qualification. Charities are a good option if you have the means to raise a lot of money. There are also small competitions and lotteries for other entries but demand is great with very few places on offer. To find out more about dates and entry for the World Marathon Majors, take a look HERE.

What are candidate races?

The Abbott World Marathon Majors (AbbottWMM) entered into a long-term exclusive partnership with the Wanda Sports Group in 2017 giving them the exclusive rights to identify three major marathon events for potential inclusion in the AbbottWMM series by entering into the candidate race process. 

Francois Pienaar, global sporting icon and Sanlam Cape Town Marathon Chairman said in the press release:

“We have always believed that the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon could be Africa’s first AbbottWorld Marathon Major, so becoming a candidate race is a tremendous honour”.

Sanlam Cape Town Marathon

Looking at publications over the years about the Abbott World Marathon Majors, and the candidate process it is clear there are plans to expand. There is a ten-year partnership with Wanda to bring new races into the Majors.

Current Candidate Cities are Chengdu, China and Cape Town, South Africa.

Chengdu Marathon, China

In an official press release by AbbottWMM and Wanda, issued on 26th February this year it explains why Singapore Marathon is no longer part of the process:

“Following the sale of The IRONMAN Group (who operates the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon) by the Wanda Sports Group, the Singapore race is no longer a part of that candidate process. Wanda Sports Group has the exclusive right to put forward these races”.

The specifics of the candidate process are not shared, but it is a strict set of criteria that covers every aspect of the race, and assessed over a 3 year period. So when new races are added you can expect them to have the highest levels of quality and organisation, as experienced with the current World Marathon Majors.

What’s next?

It is clear from the communication from Abbott World Marathon Majors that there will be more events added. There are some out there that don’t want the events diluted, but this really is no different to when Tokyo was added in 2013. The Wanda Group have been given exclusive rights to put forward three event’s, so we can expect another to be added alongside Sanlam Cape Town Marathon and Chengdu Marathon. However the candidate process, led by the Abbott World Marathon Majors, ensures that those event’s put forward will offer the same race experience we have come to expect from these events.

I think it would be great to see events added from China and Africa, expanding the Global experience. I wonder, will there be 7, 8 or even 9 World Marathon Majors in years to come.

The big question will of course be about the current six-star wannabes. Unfortunately this is a question not ready to be answered. When I asked I was told “Any specifics on the medal or how the Six Star program will change are not ready to be shared at this time”.

Personally I think it would be great to keep the current medal, with another added. However, in reality I don’t think this will be an option. Events are not going to want to be seen as a secondary event when they sit alongside the other Majors, so if and when, the Majors add more events I expect the medal will change. I think it would be great if there is a lead time to be able to still complete the Six-star challenge for those within the process, and we have a couple of years before anything will change. One thing is for sure, the clock is ticking, and soon the Abbott World Marathon Majors will be more than a six-star.

2 thoughts on “Abbott World Marathon Majors – what’s next?

  1. Honestly, I planned to try to go after the Majors eventually, But if theyre just going to keep adding races to an already bank breaking endeavor. I will not have any part of it and am taking this off my list of run achievements im going for. I will still aim to do Boston at some point in the future. But, to be quite honest, there are better races in places I actually WANT to go that won’t smash my bank account.

    Running shouldn’t be about if you can afford it. It should be accessible to anyone. By increasing the amount of races in what are expensive locals to go to it feels like a form of gate keeping against what some would consider a real target to be considered a high level runner.


    1. Completely understand this perspective. There certainly are lots of other amazing events out there, so it absolutely depends on how much you want it. I guess that’s the point of the evaluation process, to ensure the experience is on par with what to expect for a major. I can certainly name many events that could be considered good enough to be a major, and other events I’ve enjoyed that aren’t.


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