Florence Kiplagat wins the Chicago Marathon (© Getty Images)
For the second time in three years, Kenyans swept the Bank of America Chicago Marathon titles at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (11).
Kenya’s Florence Kiplagat asserted herself in front of a lead pack of seven runners for the majority of the race before pulling away in the final five kilometres of the race and crossing the finish line in 2:23:33.
Ethiopians Yebrgual Melese and Birhane Dibaba were the second and third women in 2:23:43 and 2:24:24 respectively to round out the podium.
Dickson Chumba of Kenya claimed the men’s title in 2:09:25. Compatriots Sammy Kitwara and Sammy Ndungu were the second and third-place finishers for the men in 2:09:50 and 2:10:06 respectively.
Luke Puskedra was the top US finisher with a 2:10:24 performance for fifth place.
Kiplagat’s winning time puts her 20th on this year’s world season list and netted her 25 points in the 2015-2016 Abbot World Marathon Majors standings that will reward $500,000 to the winner after next February’s Tokyo Marathon.
Kiplagat battles the wind
A pack of seven athletes dominated the front of the women’s race that charged to a sub-2:20 pace early on.
Japan’s 2013 world bronze medallist Kayoko Fukushi led the field through 10km in 33:05 and that pace was maintained through 15km, which was reached in 49:40.
The pace only began to drop as the seven leading athletes – Fukushi, Kiplagat, Melese, Dibaba, Amane Gobena, Meskerem Assefa and Mulu Seboka – approached half way. The 13.1-mile split of 1:10:27 suggested the winning time would be slower than 2:20.
Gobena was the first of the leading women to fall back. The Ethiopian started to struggle after 30km and eventually dropped out.
The real racing began leading up to the 40-kilometre marker. The lead pack was whittled down one by one, leaving just Kiplagat and Melese out in front. With just a few kilometres of running left, Kiplagat pulled away from Melese to win in 2:23:33, her first marathon victory outside of Berlin.
In last year’s race, Kiplagat was dropped in the final kilometres and went on to finish second. Memories of that experience seemed to motivate her this time in the final stages.
“Tactics are different in a race with no pacemakers, so I was trying to control in the front and in the back again,” said Kiplagat, who earlier this year broke her own world half-marathon record with 1:05:09 in Barcelona.
After crossing the finish line in today’s race, Kiplagat attempted to leap for joy but instead fell to her feet and rolled over after. Still smiling, she tossed a thumbs-up on the ground as she dedicated the race to her two daughters.
“I was jumping for them because it has been a long time [since] winning,” Kiplagat said. “They said ‘Mom, do something because it has been a long time’.”
A fast time in Chicago was not guaranteed without the use of pace-makers, which was evident as a group of about 10 runners crossed the half-marathon mark in 1:05:11.
Up until that point, USA’s marathon debutant Elkanah Kibet was the only one to attempt a significant move. He opened up a lead of 13 seconds at 10km, but was soon reeled in by the rest of the lead pack.
The 10 leading athletes eventually began to separate after 30km. Chumba, Kitwara and Ethiopia’s Abera Kuma forced the pace with the injection of a 4:32 mile, covering that five-kilometre segment in 14:38. They opened up a 15-second gap on Ndungu, Puskedra and Ethiopia’s Girmay Gebru.
Kuma was unable to keep up with Chumba and Kitwara, falling behind with about five kilometres remaining. Gebru, Ndungu and Puskedra, meanwhile, still had the leaders just about within their sights as Chumba made a break for it.
Chumba, the 2014 Tokyo Marathon champion, held strong as he turned into the final 200 metres of the race with no one near him. The 29-year-old crossed the finish line in 2:09:25, 25 seconds ahead of his compatriot.
Chumba estimates that he would have been capable of running 2:04 or 2:05 with pacers in the race.
“Running today was like a long run training time,” Kitwara said following his second-place finish. “A slow pace was tough.”
Kastor continues running strong
USA’s Deena Kastor set a national W40 masters’ record with her 2:27:47 finish. It was her fastest marathon since setting the American record of 2:19:36 in 2006.
Kastor now has the fourth-fastest qualifying time for the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials, but she is yet to declare her intentions to race next February.
“For the Olympic Marathon Trials, I really want to commit to helping my teammates right now and I feel confident that I can be in some good fitness come February,” said the 42-year-old. “But I need to have that flame and passion burning. And so if that comes to me in the coming months, I’ll definitely be on that starting line.”
Stephen Reilly for the IAAF