Even though the top men’s marathoners at the Beijing Olympics demonstrated that you can run fast on a hot day, weather again looms as a story line for Sunday’s 31st running of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
A host of Kenyan men and a more diverse international field of women will hope that the weather forecast of temperatures rising into the high 70s with a corresponding increase in humidity and winds fails to materialize as they seek to take advantage of Chicago’s historically fast course.
Kenyans lead men’s field
Sentimental favourite Daniel Njenga of Kenya, who has never finished worse than third in six attempts to win the title in Chicago, faces three of his countrymen with faster personal bests in a men’s field that includes 11 Kenyans and one Japanese runner who have broken 2:10.
Kenya’s Sammy Korir has the fastest personal best of 2:04:56 run in 2003 in Berlin when he pushed countryman Paul Tergat to a then World record of 2:04:55. Korir has not been able to duplicate that performance, however, leaving William Kipsang and Emmanuel Matai as the only other Kenyans in the field with faster personal bests than Njenga.
Richard Limo, Moses Arusei have both broken 2:07 while Timothy Cherigat, the 2004 Boston Marathon champion, and Christopher Cheiboiboch, who was second at both Boston and New York in 2002 have a big race pedigree that make them threats.
Japan’s Arata Fujiwara, who was second in this year’s Tokyo Marathon, is the only non Kenyan in the invited runners’ field who might threaten Kenyan dominance of the race. Both the potential warm, humid weather and the fact that there is no clear favourite in the men’s race would appear to indicate another close race like the last two years in Chicago where Patrick Ivuti, who is not returning to defend his 2008 title, beat Beijing Olympic silver medalist Jaouad Gharib of Morocco in the final strides.
Defending champion Adere takes on Olympic champion
The women’s race also had an exciting finish last year as returning defending champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia snuck past runner up Adriana Pirtea of Romania in the final 50 meters. The pair could battle to the end again this year, but they will face other challengers including this year’s Olympic champion and 2004 Chicago champion Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania.
Tomescu-Dita, who used her familiar front running tactics to outrun the field in the last half of the race in Beijing, said she would alter her approach to this year’s race and run with the lead pack until later in the race.
The oldest athlete to win a marathon title at the Olympics at age 38, Tomescu-Dita noted that her life has changed significantly since the victory. Sponsors came calling, more people recognize her now, and she came to Chicago 10 days prior to this year’s event and has made several promotional appearances during race week. She says that she still has the desire to attempt to win Chicago again and London, where she has competed seven times without a victory yet, but that she probably will only be competing at the top level of the sport for another two years at most.
“I want to be with my son more,” she said. “To have more of a ‘normal’ life.”
The demands of her career, Tomescu-Dita said, make her life anything but normal right now.
Competing with the aforementioned trio of top women will be Ethiopia’s Bezunesh Bekele and Worknesh Tola, Russians Lidiya Grigoryeva and Alevtina Biktimirova, and Japan’s Kiyoko Shimahara.
Adere, who has the fastest personal best of the contenders, will be hoping to defend her title even if it takes a blazing finish like last year. Pirtea is hoping to lower her personal best from 2:28 down to the 2:26 to 2:24 range. Tomescu-Dita said that she believed a 2:22 to 2:24 was possible for her if the weather cooperates. A hot, humid day could make the finish times for the leaders closer to 2:33:49 Adere ran to win last year’s race when everyone was cautious about running too fast too early as temperatures soared into the high 80s.
It should not be that much of a furnace during this year’s race as even though the forecast is for temperatures in the mid to high 70s, it is also supposed to be overcast, rather than a clear sky where the radiant heat would add to the misery of the runners. Race officials have learned from last year’s race, said race director Carey Pinkowski, and have taken steps to avoid the problems that brought a storm of criticism when last year’s race was cut short due to the weather. Better on course communication, beefed up aid stations, and an improved action plan to deal with the weather have been planned for this year’s event, which is the first under new title sponsor Bank of America.
Jim Ferstle for the IAAF