Taking full advantage of a fast early pace, Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto smashed the course record at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, clocking 2:03:45 – the fourth-fastest time in history on a record-legal course.
In the women’s contest, Kenyan compatriot Rita Jeptoo rallied back from her narrow defeat here last year, breaking away from training partner Jemina Jelagat Sumgong in the final kilometres to win in 2:19:57, the first sub-2:20 Marathon in the world this year.
Men ran aggressively from the start
With six red-shirted pacemakers on the front, a lead pack of 19 men scorched through the first 5km in 14:45, a 2:04:29 pace. Surprisingly, that fast pace did little to winnow the pack, which was still 16-strong at 10km (29:20), not far off World record schedule.
Behind pacemakers Belete Assefa of Ethiopia and Abdellah Falil of Morocco, Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai simply tried to follow along and not expend too much energy.
“For me I was so confident from the start, but you know I did not stay in the front,” said Mutai, who won the 2011 London Marathon. “So, I was just being patient.”
Assefa and Falil kept the pace high, hitting 15km in 44:00 and 20km in 58:39. There were still 13 men within four seconds of the lead, including Kimetto, Mutai, Moses Mosop, Sammy Kitwara and Micah Kogo, all from Kenya.
At this point, the race was on for a 2:03:45 finish, and some feared that the race might blow up after the 12th mile was run in a blistering 4:39.
Halfway was passed in 1:01:52 and it was startling that nine men were still in contention. Kimetto and Mutai remained in the middle of the group, and he later said he was just running based on how he felt, not watching the splits. He wasn’t thinking about the World record, but rather winning the race.
“I didn’t pay attention to the clock at all,” said the former maize farmer who has only been running seriously for three years. “I only paid attention at the end. It was only at the finish line that I saw I broke the course record.”
The fast pace burned out the pacemakers, and the only one left at 25km (1:14:16) was Kenya’s Simon Ndirangu. He soon retired, setting up the road-running equivalent of a bare knuckles fight over the final stages of the race.
By 35km, Kimetto, Mutai, Kogo and Kitwara were the only athletes left in contention, and Mutai and Kimetto decided it was time to break up the race. Kogo and Kitwara were dropped, leaving Kimetto and Mutai running side by side, trading blows like prize-fighters.
“We were just going back and forth,” said Kimetto, who denied there was any cooperation between him and Mutai.
The race wasn’t decided until the 40km fluid station when Mutai reached for his bottle and knocked it off the table. Kimetto successfully picked up his, took a few sips, then spurted away from Mutai. He later claimed that Mutai’s bottle fumble had no impact on the outcome of the race.
Mutai was still running with good form, but simply could not match Kimetto’s speed. He said that the missed bottle wasn’t the reason he lost.
“No, the bottle was not the problem,” he explained. “I was a bit tired. I was trying to close the gap and I could not make it. For me, maybe Dennis was so stronger than me.”
Under cloudless skies, Kimetto romped home with his first Chicago victory, and his second World Marathon Majors event title this year after winning the Tokyo Marathon in February.
His 2:03:45 was the fastest-ever time run in the United States on a record-legal course. Mutai scored a big personal best of 2:03:52 in second, and Kitwara also ran a career best time of 2:05:16 in third. Moses Mosop, who won this race in 2011, faded to eighth in 2:11:19.
Kimetto’s win was all the more impressive because he suffered from malaria after finishing 25th at the Semi-Marathon Marvejols Mende in France on July 21.
“I had a race in France, and as soon as that race got done I felt sickly, and went immediately to the doctor,” said Kimetto. “It was only the last six weeks that I started to feel better.”
The two top home-country athletes, Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Matt Tegenkamp, finished fifth and tenth respectively in 2:09:45 and 2:12:28. Both had hoped to run better.
“I’m definitely disappointed from what I hoped to run,” said Ritzenhein, who said he had hamstring problems in the final third of the race. “I hoped to run three minutes faster.”
Women take more cautious approach
While the men went for broke from the gun, the women took a more measured approach. With the help of three male pacemakers, they kept their 5km splits steady in the 16:50 range, leaving nine women still in contention at half way, which was reached in 1:11:15.
Jeptoo and Jelagat were in that group, along with defending champion Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia, and Russian Maria Konovalova, who spent much of the first half at the front of that group. Jeptoo was feeling strong, and knew she had a good second half ahead.
“Last year I was not ready to win,” Jeptoo said. “The way my body respond during my training, I was feeling I would maybe run 2:20 or 2:21.”
By 25km (1:24:18), the race was down to five: Baysa, Jeptoo, Konovalova, Jelagat and Ethiopia’s Abebech Afework. Jeptoo could sense it was her day.
“Today I was strong, I was feeling strong,” she said. “But, I know a race is a race.”
Clipping from 25km to 30km in 16:33, only Jelagat could match Jeptoo’s increased tempo. Digging deep, Jeptoo tried over the next 5km to drop her training partner (they are both coached by Claudio Berardelli).
She dropped down to 16:07 for the next 5km, and Jelagat stubbornly held on. Jeptoo stepped on the gas again, this time dropping down to 15:57 for the 5km from 35 to 40km. That surge finally broke Jelagat, and put Jeptoo in sight of breaking the 2:20 barrier. She began sprinting when she saw the finish line, coming home in 2:19:57.
“I’m happy today because I ran my best time,” she said. “Last year, I was maybe not ready, maybe 85 (per cent). But this year, I was very, very ready.”
Jelagat set a personal best in second in 2:20:48, and Konovalova also ran a career best of 2:22:46. Aliaksandra Duliba smashed the Belarusian record in fourth place with 2:23:44, while last year’s champion Baysa finished fifth in 2:26:42.
“For me I’m very happy about the race,” said Jelagat. “Today’s race was very good for me. I’m not dissatisfied; I’m very happy, very satisfied.”
The top US woman was Clara Santucci, the 26-year-old clocking 2:31:39 in ninth place.
“It’s the Marathon so you never know what’s going to happen,” said Santucci. “Halfway, I was right on target to break 2:30 (but) I made my goal to be the first American.”
“We had some good traditional Chicago Marathon fast running,” observed long-time executive race director Carey Pinkowski, whose timing and scoring team reported 40,143 starters. Both winners won $100,000 in prize money plus time bonuses.
David Monti for the IAAF