With strong late race surges, Kenyan Evans Rutto and Svetlana Zakharova of Russia burst to convincing wins in the 26th LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon on Sunday (12 October).
In his stunning first appearance over the distance, the 25 year-old Rutto broke from a seven-man pack in the 19th mile to win in 2:05:50, placing himself firmly among the four fastest marathoners of all time, with the fastest-ever marathon debut.
His effort easily bettered Wilson Onsare's debut record of 2:06:47 from April's Paris Marathon, Haile Gebrselassie's 2:06:35 'unofficial debut' in the 2002 London Marathon, and was just eight seconds shy of Khalid Khannouchi's 1999 course record.
"It sounds very nice," said Rutto, who finished sixth at the 2001 World Half Marathon Championships, when told of his debut record. "I was feeling very good, and I prepared specifically for this race for the past two months."
Rutto's decisive move, 4:44 and 4:34 surges in the 20th and 21st miles, built an insurmountable 17-second gap after 35 k, ending what was until that point a relatively tight race. He powered on to win by a whopping 1:17.
Pacers Gert Thys and Hendrik Ramaala led a pack of 15 through the half in 1:03:20, a pace Rutto later said he considered too slow.
"When we reached 30k (1:29:58), I saw the guys weren't really moving," noted Rutto, who trains under German coach Dieter Hogan in Boulder, Colorado. "So I picked up the pace. I planned anyway to pick it up in the last 10k." Rutto completed the second half in 1:02:15, 1:20 faster than his first half, and jetted the final 10k in a phenomenal 29:26.
Even Rutto, a regular fixture on the road racing circuit who was sixth at the 2001 World Half Marathon Championships, seemed surprised by the ease with which he carried out his first marathon. "I was expecting to run between 2:06 and 2:07," he said. Laughing, he added, "I did not expect to run such a time."
It was a good day for Hogan, and for his debutantes. Kenyan Paul Koech, also coached by the German, finished a distant second in 2:07:07 in his eagerly anticipated debut.
"The only problem I had is that I didn't know what exactly was required in the marathon," said Koech, the 1998 World Half Marathon champion. "Only when I got to the halfway did I realize that we were running too slow." That realization, he said, came too late to seriously challenge his training partner. "I tried to follow Evans for one kilometer, but I trained with Evans, and I knew what he was able to do."
In 1997, Koech clocked a 26:36.20 on the track, still the fourth fastest ever 10,000m, and had planned to move up to the marathon following appearances at the 1999 World Championships and 2000 Olympics. But his career outline was derailed by a knee injury in 1999, and subsequent surgery in 2000. While turning in consistent performances on the roads, the injuries persisted, forcing him to postpone his leap into the uncharted waters of the marathon.
Before the race, the often analytical Koech said he wasn't yet sure if he would characterize himself as a marathoner. Now, the 34 year-old Kenyan armed forces officer knows. "After what I've done today, I think this will become my event."
It was a huge payday for Rutto, who earned a US$125,000 sub-2:06 bonus on top of the $100,000 winner's check. Koech earned $55,000 as the runner-up, in addition to a $30,000 sub 2:07:30 bonus.
Daniel Njenga, second last year, dropped a notch to third (2:07:41), with Peter Chebet (2:08:43) and Jimmy Muindi (2:08:57) completing a top-five Kenyan sweep. Moroccan Abdelkader El Mouaziz, a pre-race favorite, faded in the final 15 kilometers, and finished sixth in 2:09:38. The top US finisher was Mebrahtom Keflezighi, seventh in 2:10:55.
Zakharova, who won April's Boston Marathon, bounced back from a disappointing ninth place finish at August's World Championships with a decisive 2:23:07 win, 28 seconds ahead of Romania's lighting-fast starter Constantina Tomescu-Dita.
Surrounded only by her three male escorts, the 33 year-old Romanian, who lowered her PB to 2:23:43 in London last Spring, ran alone for the first 30 kilometres, leading by 27 seconds after 10k (33:58), 69 seconds at 15k, before reaching the half in 1:11:18, nearly 80 seconds clear of Zakharova.
The Romanian's start was of the sort that the Russian predicted, and one she seemingly ignored, deciding instead to sit back patiently and relish the near-perfect conditions while Tomescu-Dita slowly tired herself out. "I knew she was normally a front-runner so I didn't really pay attention to her big lead," said Zakharova, who earned a $10,000 time bonus atop her $100,000 winner's check.
Another Russian, 26 year-old Albina Ivanova, running the race of her life, was the first to challenge for the lead. Slowly chipping away at the gap, she finally passed the laboring leader just before the 22nd mile marker. But the Romanian was not easily intimidated. She stuck with Ivanova, and, a mile later, regained her composure, and with it, the lead. But just over a mile later, the fast-finishing Zakharova picked up the Russian attack where Ivanova left off. This time the Romanian couldn't respond, and watched helplessly as the Russian national record holder forged ahead for good.
After a hectic recent race schedule which included a DNF at the World Championships and a fifth place showing at last weekend's World Half Marathon championships, "I was feeling a little tired," Tomescu-Dita said. "When she passed me, I just wanted to stay on pace and relax."
Tomescu-Dita held on for second, reaching the line in 2:23:45, her fourth consecutive marathon PB. Latvian record holder Jelena Prokopcuka (2:24:53) was in the chase pack throughout, and overtook Ivanova (2:25:35) to finish third. Ivanova, who competed in five marathons in 2002, knocked nearly four-and-a-half minutes from her personal best.
Grazyna Syrek of Poland was fifth in 2:26:22, nearly a minute and a half ahead of compatriot Malgorzata Sobanska (2:27:50).
South African-born Colleen De Reuck was the top American finisher, seventh in 2:28:01, while 40 year-old Jenny Spangler, the 1996 US Olympic Trials Champion, finished 13th in 2:32:38, breaking a 12 year-old national masters record. Ironically, Spangler, a local favourite, also holds the national marathon record for a teenager (2:33, set 20 years ago). Chicago was the first marathon she finished since 1996.
1. Evans Rutto, Kenya, 2:05:50
2. Paul Koech, Kenya, 2:07:07
3. Daniel Njenga, Kenya, 2:07:41
4. Peter Chebet, Kenya, 2:08:43
5. Jimmy Muindi, Kenya, 2:08:57
6. Abdelkader El Mouaziz, Morocco, 2:09:38
7. Mebrahtom Keflezighi, USA, 2:10:03 2:10:03
8. Hendrik Ramaala, South Africa, 2:10:55
9. Sisay Bezabeh, Australia, 2:11:08
10. Josephat Kiprono, Kenya, 2:11:30
1. Svetana Zakharova, Russia, 2:23:07
2. Constantina Tomescu-Dita, Romania, 2:23:35
3. Jelena Prokopcuka, Latvia, 2:24:53
4. Albina Ivanova, Russia, 2:25:35
5. Grazyna Syrek, Poland, 2:26:22
6. Malgorzata Sobanska, Poland, 2:27:50
7. Colleen De Reuck, USA, 2:28:01
8. Madina Biktagirova, Russia, 2:28:33
9. Nuta Olaru, Romania, 2:29:00
10. Deeja Youngquist, USA, 2:29:01