Officially, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is USA’s fastest legal Marathon course, home of the US all-comers’ records for both men (Tsegaye Kebede’s 2:04:38) and women (Paula Radcliffe’s 2:17:18).
Speed is always a key element of this IAAF Gold Label Road Race, and executive race director Carey Pinkowski expects fast running through the streets of Chicago on Sunday (13).
“The World record in Berlin, I think, has set the atmosphere for Sunday,” said Pinkowski. “I think the culture is that we’re going to go fast.”
Pinkowski has loaded his field with some of the sport’s top Africans, including five men who have run sub-2:06 and seven women who have run under 2:24. With the help of 10 pacemakers, he expects the race to be both fast and closely-contested.
“I think the course record is going to go,” Pinkowski said confidently.
Leading the men’s entry list is Kenya’s Moses Mosop, who won here in 2011 despite being at only “85% fitness” due to an achilles injury he had suffered the summer before. His 2:03:06 personal best from Boston in the same year is the fastest in the field, and he ran 2:05:37 when he won here, a time which broke the late Sammy Wanjiru’s course record. Mosop said at the time he could definitely have run faster.
“When I was 100% I run 2:02,” he said matter-of-factly. “One hundred per cent.”
His biggest challengers are compatriots Dennis Kimetto, the 2013 Tokyo Marathon champion who recorded the fastest ever debut with 2:04:16 in Berlin last year, and Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40), the 2009 World silver medallist who set his 2:04:40 PB when winning the 2011 London Marathon. Pinkowski likes that mix of athletes.
“If you look at Emmanuel Mutai, these guys are at different points in their career,” said Pinkowski. “I think they’re going to complement each other. I think we’re going to have a great run.”
Others hoping to cross the finish line in Grant Park in the top three include Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero, who set a PB of 2:04:23 on his debut in Dubai last year, and Tariku Jufar, who won in Houston last year with a PB of 2:06:51.
Despite dipping below 2:06 on his Marathon debut in Chicago last year, Sammy Kitwara just missed out on the top three. He will aim to improve on that this year and will be joined by fellow Kenyans Mike Kigen and Micah Kogo, both of whom will be competing in their second Marathons after making their debuts earlier this year with respective times of 2:08:24 and 2:10:27.
Five-time World Half-marathon champion Zersenay Tadese and fellow Half-marathon specialist Atsedu Tsegay of Ethiopia are also in the field.
For the home country, Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Matt Tegenkamp will lead the charge. Ritzenhein ran here last year, setting a career best of 2:07:47, easily toppling the personal best of his coach, Alberto Salazar (2:08:51, Boston, 1982).
He ran a smart race last year, moving up eight positions in the second half to finish ninth, becoming the third-fastest US marathon runner in history.
Tegenkamp, a five-time US champion, will make his Marathon debut. He said two days ago on his Twitter account that his goal was to run “as far below 2:10 as possible”, which could put him under Alan Culpepper’s US debut record of 2:09:41 set here in 2002.
Top two women from last year return
Ethiopia’s Atsede Baysa and Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo finished first and second here last year, separated by only one second in a sprint finish. Running 2:22:03 and 2:22:04 respectively, both women set PBs and have decided to race here again this year.
“Rita Jeptoo and Atsede Baysa, the greatest women’s race in the history of Chicago,” said Pinkowski. “It came down to the final steps.”
Jeptoo, who also won this year’s Boston Marathon, is currently fourth in the 2012/2013 World Marathon Majors standings with 40 points. A victory here would put her at 65 points, giving her a 10-point lead for the $500,000 prize going into the series' final event, the ING New York City Marathon on 3 November.
“Rita has a lot at stake,” Pinkowski said. “If she wins Chicago, she may win the World Marathon Majors. There’s a lot of intrigue there.”
Other women to look out for include Ethiopia’s Merima Mohammed, who has a 2:23:04 PB, Ehitu Kiros, who smashed her PB in Dubai this year with 2:23:39, Abebech Afework, who finished second in Rotterdam this year in 2:23:59, and 2003 World cross-country champion Werknesh Kidane, who has a best of 2:26:15.
Kenya’s Jemima Jelagat, who finished one place ahead of Afework in Rotterdam with a PB of 2:23:27, is also entered alongside Japan’s 2008 Olympian Yukiko Akaba (2:24:09) and Belarusian record-holder Aliaksandra Duliba (2:26:08).
The 35th Bank of America Chicago Marathon offers a $550,000 prize money purse, with $100,000 going to the race winners. Time bonuses go as high as $75,000 for course records.
The race has 45,000 registered participants, and had 37,475 finishers in 2012, making it the largest Marathon in the United States last year (the usually larger ING New York City Marathon was cancelled due to Super Storm Sandy).
David Monti (Race Results Weekly) for the IAAF