Abel Kirui en route to victory at the 2016 Chicago Marathon (© Getty Images)
The three most recent men’s champions will return to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday (7) where they will face two up-and-coming Ethiopian talents and two reigning world champions. The women’s field for the IAAF Gold Label road race, meanwhile, contains three women with sub-2:20 bests, including a two-time Chicago winner.
The 41st edition of the race is shaping up to be one of its best.
Defending champion Galen Rupp of the USA will line up alongside 2016 winner Abel Kirui and 2015 winner Dickson Chumba. But Ethiopia’s Mosinet Geremew and Birhanu Legese, who set respective PBs of 2:04:00 and 2:04:15 from this year’s Dubai Marathon, will start as the fastest men in the field.
Now retired from the track and fully concentrating on the roads, six-time world champion and four-time Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah will also contend for top honours, so too will world marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui.
And given that rain is forecast for Sunday’s race, it would be unwise to rule out Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi, who memorably won this year’s Boston Marathon in atrocious conditions.
Rupp ended a 15-year drought of US men’s victories in Chicago when winning in 2:09:20 last year. He struggled in the harsh conditions of Boston earlier this year and withdrew from the race but returned to action three weeks later to win the Prague Marathon in a lifetime best of 2:06:07.
The Olympic bronze medallist has reportedly been training well in recent months and he will have one eye on the North American record of 2:05:38, set by Khalid Khannouchi in 2002. Whether that will be enough to win, though, is another matter entirely.
Four men in the field – including Kirui and Chumba – already have PBs faster than that. Kirui won the world title back in 2009 and retained it in 2011 before earning Olympic silver in 2012. The 36-year-old Kenyan has remained hugely competitive, though. He won the 2016 Chicago Marathon, finished second last year, and placed fourth at the 2017 and 2018 London Marathons.
Chumba has occupied every step of the podium in Chicago. He placed third in 2014 with a PB of 2:04:32, won in 2015 and finished second in 2016. Earlier this year he won the Tokyo Marathon for the second time in his career, clocking 2:05:30, his second-fastest marathon performance to date.
Rupp, Kirui and Chumba won their Chicago titles in un-paced races. This year, however, organisers have reintroduced pacemakers which could change the dynamic of the race.
It may favour the likes of Geremew and Legese, who were among the six Ethiopians who finished inside 2:04:20 at this year’s Dubai Marathon. Geremew won the race in 2:04:00 in what was just his third ever race at the classic distance. He has raced well over 13.1 miles this year, winning the Yangzhou Half Marathon in April and more recently clocking 59:48 to win the Buenos Aires Half Marathon in late August.
Legese’s 2:04:15 performance in Dubai is the third-fastest marathon debut in history. The 24-year-old has previously beaten quality fields at the half marathon distance to win in New Delhi, twice, and Ras Al-Khaimah. It might not be long before he lands his first victory over 26.2 miles.
Farah’s first full year as a road runner has so far been a successful one. He finished third, one place ahead of Kirui, at the London Marathon in a British record of 2:06:21 and recently won his fifth Great North Run title in 59:27. Chicago will be a good opportunity to put into practice all the lessons he has learnt during his first two marathons.
Kirui enjoyed a stellar 2017, winning the world title in London four months after his Boston Marathon victory. He hasn’t raced since rallying to a second-place finish in Boston earlier this year, but – rain aside – can expect a completely different racing experience on Sunday.
Kawauchi, meanwhile, has raced 15 times since his Boston Marathon victory: eight half marathons, one 30km races, four marathons and two ultramarathons. (Not forgetting, of course, that he had contested three marathons and six half marathons this year before lining up for Boston.)
All of this, however, is typical race prep for the prolific runner. He likely won’t go with the pace set by the pacemakers but it will be fascinating to follow his progress through the race.
Kenya’s Kenneth Kipkemoi and Bernard Kipyego are two of the nine men in the field with sub-2:07 PBs. Kipkemoi won in Rotterdam earlier this year in 2:05:44 in just his second marathon, while two-time Amsterdam winner Kipyego has considerably more experience at the distance. The 32-year-old finished third in Chicago last year, but would likely need to improve on his lifetime best of 2:06:19 to guarantee another podium finish.
Two-time world indoor medallist Augustine Choge will be making his highly anticipated marathon debut. The 31-year-old has represented Kenya on numerous occasions, indoors, outdoors, on the track and at cross country. The 2003 world U18 champion and 2006 Commonwealth 5000m champion has moved up in distance in recent years, clocking 59:26 for the half marathon in 2017.
Kenya’s 2016 world half marathon silver medallist Bedan Karoki and Japanese 5000m record-holder Suguru Osako could also feature prominently.
Kosgei hopes to step up
Brigid Kosgei finished second in Chicago last year, setting a big PB of 2:20:22. Nine weeks later, she won the Honolulu Marathon in 2:22:15, taking more than five minutes off the course record, and she finished second in London earlier this year in a PB of 2:20:13.
Her most recent performance was a 1:07:52 effort at the Great North Run, finishing a close second to London Marathon champion Vivian Cheruiyot.
With 2017 winner Tirunesh Dibaba not returning to Chicago this year, Kosgei’s task has been made slightly easier, but she will be up against three women with sub-2:20 PBs – one of whom has won twice in Chicago.
Florence Kiplagat hasn’t competed in any race since she failed to finish in Chicago last year. She won the two previous editions, though, clocking 2:21:32 in 2016 and 2:23:33 in 2015. It is difficult to predict what form she’ll arrive in, but if an athlete of her calibre – she has won world titles at cross country and the half marathon and has set world records in the latter – is anywhere near her best, she’ll still pose a threat.
Ethiopia’s Roza Dereje upset the form books in Dubai earlier this year, taking three minutes off her PB to set a course record of 2:19:17, making her the eighth-fastest woman in history. Her results since then, though, have been mixed as she finished second at the Istanbul Half Marathon in a PB of 1:07:00 but placed a distant fifth at the Bogota Half Marathon, albeit at altitude, in 1:16:20.
Compatriot Birhane Dibaba finished third in Chicago in 2014 and 2015, and reduced her PB when winning the Tokyo Marathon earlier this year in 2:19:51. Her only other road performances this year are a 1:09:32 clocking at the Yangzhou Half Marathon and a 32:31 run over 10km in Manchester, finishing fourth on both occasions.
Fellow Ethiopian Shure Demise set her personal best of 2:20:59 at the 2015 Dubai Marathon and finished fifth at last year’s World Championships. Still only 22 years old, she placed fourth at this year’s Tokyo Marathon in 2:22:07.
Following the recent withdrawal of Jordan Hasay and Amy Cragg, Laura Thweatt will line up as the leading US prospect. The 29-year-old clocked a lifetime best of 2:25:38 at last year’s London Marathon and has set PBs at various other distances throughout 2018.
Many supporters along the course will be just as keen to follow Gwen Jorgsensen. Three months after winning the Olympic triathlon title in 2016, Jorgensen lined up for the New York Marathon and placed 14th in 2:41:01. She took a break from competition in 2017 and gave birth to a son, Stanley, in August. Two months later, she announced that she was retiring from triathlon and will instead focus on the marathon with a view to winning Olympic gold in 2020.
The 32-year-old has produced promising results on the track and road this year. She started 2018 with a 15:15.64 clocking for 5000m indoors, then set a 10,000m PB of 31:55.68 in Stanford. She finished fourth at the US Half Marathon Championships in 1:10:58, another PB, back in May and followed it with solid marks at 10km in July and August.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
Mosinet Geremew (ETH) 2:04:00
Birhanu Legese (ETH) 2:04:15
Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:04:32
Abel Kirui (KEN) 2:05:04
Kenneth Kipkemoi (KEN) 2:05:44
Galen Rupp (USA) 2:06:07
Bernard Kipyego (KEN) 2:06:19
Mo Farah (GBR) 2:06:21
Geoffrey Kirui (KEN) 2:06:27
Suguru Osako (JPN) 2:07:19
Bedan Karoki (KEN) 2:07:41
Ryo Kiname (JPN) 2:08:08
Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:08:14
Mohamed Reda (MAR) 2:09:18
Stephen Sambu (KEN) 2:11:07
Elkanah Kibet (USA) 2:11:31
Tyler McCandless (USA) 2:12:28
Aaron Braun (USA) 2:12:54
Kiya Dandena (USA) 2:12:56
Augustine Choge (KEN) debut
Roza Dereje (ETH) 2:19:17
Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:44
Birhane Dibaba (ETH) 2:19:51
Brigid Kosgei (KEN) 2:20:13
Shure Demise (ETH) 2:20:59
Laura Thweatt (USA) 2:25:38
Alyson Dixon (GBR) 2:29:06
Jessica Draskau Petersson (DEN) 2:30:07
Vianey De la Rosa (MEX) 2:32:01
Veronicah Nyaruai (KEN) 2:32:06
Sarah Crouch (USA) 2:32:44
Taylor Ward (USA) 2:35:27
Dayna Pidhoresky (CAN) 2:36:08
Hiruni Wijayaratne (SRI) 2:36:35
Gwen Jorgensen (USA) 2:41:01
Alexi Pappas (GRE) debut