While the winners of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday (12) were very much expected, the way those victories developed at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race was something of a surprise.
Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, smooth and smiling, had a great time covering the streets of the aptly named Windy City in 2:04:11. Defending champion Rita Jeptoo proved she was truly queen of Chicago, pulling away at 37km to power to a 2:24:35 victory.
It was just the fourth time in the race’s history that a Kenyan double had been achieved.
Jeptoo clinched the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors title in commanding fashion, winning in Chicago and Boston both years. She is $500,000 richer for it.
Sammy Kitwara finished second in the men’s race in a well-run personal best of 2:04:28, and countryman Dickson Chumba came third, also clocking a personal best, 2:04:32.
Ethiopian Mare Dibaba was the second woman in 2:25:37; Kenyan Florence Kiplagat came third in 2:25:57.
Kipchoge conquers old track foe Bekele
The much-anticipated duel between Kipchoge and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele never developed but others stepped up to provide exciting racing in the second half.
Led by four pacers, the pack of Kipchoge, Bekele, Kitwara, Chumba, Tadese Tola, Bernard Koech, Feyisa Lilesa and Wesley Korir shot to the front in a 4:34 first mile to assert their role as runners of interest. The first 5km was covered in 14:43, three seconds faster than Dennis Kimetto’s 2013 course record pace.
Under 8⁰C sunny skies, the only weather problem was Chicago’s famous wind, occasionally gusting from the southeast to 15 mph. Bekele, Kitwara, Kipchoge and Korir were abreast right on the heels of the pacers, with Tola, Lilesa and Koech just behind. Korir was the first to fall off at about eight miles.
The pacers, one of whom was Tariku Bekele, Kenenisa’s brother and training partner, appeared at their top effort, pushed by Kipchoge, Kitwara, Koech and Bekele who seemed to be somewhat impatient. The pack passed the half marathon point in 1:02:11, 31 seconds off their targeted split.
Tola seemed to struggle by 25km, his form rough, as did Lilesa who gamely held on to the back of the pack until 35km.
Bekele drifted to the back of the pack at about 28km and while all players were still present at 30km, a 14:34 run between 30km and 35km thinned the herd. Bekele slipped back first, then Koech, leaving the trifecta of Kipchoge, Kitwara and Chumba.
Though all looked smooth, Kitwara and Chumba were on pace for personal bests, and thus were closer to their top end. The somewhat slower first half played into Kipchoge’s track speed; he visibly enjoyed pressing the accelerator to post a withering 4:33 25th mile. Fans were treated to a display of truly beautiful running as he crossed 40km in 2:03:08 uncontested, and then the finish line in 2:04:11.
In taking second some 17 seconds behind, Kitwara continued his progression in this race, having finished third last year and fourth 12 months prior. Chumba’s 2:04:32 in third took more than a minute off the best he set when winning in Tokyo earlier this year.
A disappointed Bekele, competing in just his second marathon, held on for fourth place in 2:05:51, while Bernard Koech finished fifth in 2:08:30.
“I enjoyed the race from start to finish,” said the still-smiling Kipchoge, who has now won three of his four marathons, the slowest of which was 2:05:30.
He attributed his win to good preparation, experience and to enjoying the 42km distance. “This is my fourth marathon and now I understand. I can say today, I am now fully experienced. The race today was a real race.”
Bekele said afterwards his goal time had been 2:03:13, nearly two minutes faster than his debut earlier this year in Paris. “Of course I wanted to run faster but I couldn’t. I’m disappointed but its ok, there is another day. I will prepare myself again for a better result.” He thought lack of experience in the marathon and jet lag affected his performance.
The first US contender, Bobby Curtis, cracked the top ten, finishing ninth in 2:11:20, taking more than two minutes off his PB.
Jeptoo at the double
The surprise in the women’s race came early when USA’s Amy Hastings appeared, tucked in a group of men, three seconds up on the anticipated leaders – Florence Kiplagat, Birhane Dibaba, Rita Jeptoo, Mare Dibaba and Gelete Burka – at three miles.
Hastings’ best of 2:27:03, set three years and many injuries ago, was eight or nine minutes slower than the women she led through a 17:12 first 5km. It was unclear whether the other women didn’t see Hastings or didn’t consider her early move a threat, but they were content to let her increase her lead to as much as 15 seconds by six miles. While it seemed bold, Hastings was on a reasonable 2:25 pace.
Kiplagat, Jeptoo and the two unrelated Dibabas, on the other hand, seemed restricted by pacers to an exceptionally comfortable pace, considering all have marathon PBs faster than 2:22. It seemed as if Hastings was to pay for her early ambitions, as the pack of four women caught and passed her by 15km, slipping back 15 seconds – but no further.
The lead pack of Kiplagat, Jeptoo, Burka and both Dibabas settled in cagey, tactical racing, passing through the halfway point in 1:12:35, significantly slower than the 1:09 the pacers had been instructed to hit.
Past 25km, Burka exited the pack from the back and the four survivors ran abreast on 2:24 pace. Hastings fought back to the pack briefly at 30km but, realising she’d crossed into a danger zone, eased back and held steady.
The women in the field had already written off Paula Radcliffe’s course record of 2:17:18, and of the group, Jeptoo had a stake in placing first or second to secure the World Marathon Majors series victory.
Though Kiplagat’s blazing half marathon speed might have been a cause for concern, Jeptoo waited until 23 miles to make her first move, and another at 25 with a 5:11 mile. No one went with her and Jeptoo, like Kipchoge, was a model of fluid, efficient movement as she cruised into Grant Park, breaking the tape in 2:24:35.
It meant that for the second year in succession, Jeptoo won both the Boston and Chicago marathons. Former world record-holder Catherine Ndereba is the only other woman in history to win both marathons back-to-back in successive years.
Mare Dibaba was nearly a minute back in 2:25:37, with Kiplagat taking third in 2:25:57. Birhane Dibaba came fourth in 2:27:02 and was almost caught by Hastings, who finished fifth in exactly the same time as her debut, 2:27:03.
Jeptoo was understandably happy with the win and the World Marathon Majors title, and said the fans made her feel like the queen of Chicago. Blaming the slower-than-expected time on tactics and a windy last 15km, she said the race was “not easy” and that the other women were looking to her to make the first move.
Kiplagat and Mare Dibaba also mentioned the wind as a hindering factor.
Hastings was delighted with her fifth-place finish in such a strong field and sees this result as confirmation of her return to fitness. She led an impressive US charge, in which five women placed in the top ten, all faster than 2:35.
Sarah Barker for the IAAF
1 Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:04:11
2 Sammy Kitwara (KEN) 2:04:28
3 Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:04:32
4 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 2:05:51
5 Bernard Koech (KEN) 2:08:30
6 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI) 2:09:08
7 Lani Rutto (KEN) 2:10:42
8 Wesley Korir (KEN) 2:11:09
9 Bobby Curtis (USA) 2:11:20
10 Koji Kobayashi (JPN) 2:11:43
1 Rita Jeptoo (KEN) 2:24:35
2 Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:35:37
3 Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 2:25:57
4 Birhane Dibaba (ETH) 2:27:02
5 Amy Hastings (USA) 2:27:03
6 Clara Santucci (USA) 2:32:21
7 Sarah Crouch (USA) 2:32:44
8 Gelete Burka (ETH) 2:34:17
9 Melissa White (USA) 2:34:19
10 Lauren Jimison (USA) 2:34:38