Tsegaye Kebede and Atsede Baysa swept the top spots for Ethiopia at the 35th edition of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday (7).
Kebede sizzles 2:04:38 PB – Men’s race
Kebede, 25, came to the Chicago Marathon in 2010, and he lost. But it was the way he lost, in a citywide battle with the late Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya that came down to the last .2 miles, which established his reputation as a fighter. It was this reputation that proved most telling for his win in Chicago 2012.
Taking on the deepest field in the IAAF Gold Label Road Race’s history, the Ethiopian stuck in a pack of 11 men through the half in 1:02:55. But as the pacers dropped one by one and the race emerged, it was Kebede that would move, and Kebede that would hold.
"When we passed halfway, it was too slow," Kebede says. "But what I thought, I have to wait. After, I push by myself."
It was after the last pacer’s white singlet drifted aside at mile 16 that Kebede pulled the pack into a spearhead, dropping four sub-4:40 miles consecutively, which winnowed the group to four. Compatriots Feyisa Lilesa and Tilahun Regassa, and Kenya’s Sammy Kitwara were all aboard, the latter two in their Marathon debuts.
All four men have Half Marathon bests under 60 minutes, with Kitwara’s the fastest in 58:48. But despite the fact that his, a 59:35 from 2008, was the slowest of the group, Kebede settled after his initial move, then attacked again with a 23rd mile of 4:36, dropping all but Lilesa.
Slowly, inexorably, Kebede would pull away, claiming his first World Marathon Majors win since London 2010. His finishing time 2:04:38 was a personal best, as well as a course record, and he becomes the first Ethiopian man to win in Chicago.
"My dream is always to run 2:04. I am too happy," he says. "This is a great day for me in the Chicago Marathon."
Lilesa would finish second in 2:04:52, and Regassa was third in his debut in 2:05:28 to complete the Ethiopian sweep of the top three places, which was also a Chicago Marathon first.
Dathan Ritzenhein, ninth at the 2008 Olympic marathon, was the top American in a PB 2:07:47 in ninth.
"This is a big step forward for me," he said. "Next year, I’ll just go for it."
Shobukhova falters, Baysa flies
Attempting her fourth consecutive win in Chicago, Liliya Shobukhova, the second-fastest woman ever in the Marathon, went through the early miles with a group of nine women, which included fellow Russian Maria Konovalova. The pair would lead an opening half of 1:11:15.
But when the break occurred between 25- and 30K, Shobukhova began to drift.
A new group emerged from that break, led by Lucy Kabuu of Kenya. With the second-fastest Marathon best in the field (2:19:34) to Shobukhova, she pulled with her four other women, which included Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia.
Baysa, who has a 2:22:04 best set at the 2010 Paris Marathon, said before the race the cool temperatures of the city were similar to those of her home in Addis Ababa. With that hometown feeling, she would outlast the grinding 5:25s the women settled into.
Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo, who has a stale PB of 2:23:38 from Boston in 2006, would pair with Baysa, and after separating, would steel themselves for the final push up the bridge on Roosevelt Road. They would briefly trade leads.
"I was thinking I had to be the first one on the top. If I was the first on top, I knew I would win this race," Baysa says.
She did get to the top first, but even then the race did not seem decided. Jeptoo would stalk a stride behind in the final 200 meters, and in the last few, would make one last surge for the win. She fell short in a lean, and Baysa, 28, would earn her first Marathon win in two years since Paris, 2:22:03 to 2:22:04.
"In 2010 [when Baysa finished runner-up in Chicago after leading early], I made a mistake by going too first the first half. This year, the whole time I was running to win the race," she says.
Kabuu would finish third in 2:22:41.
Shobukhova, whose previous Marathon at the 2012 Olympics ended in a DNF, was disappointed but not crushed speaking about her Chicago race, which she finished in fourth in 2:22:59.
After her hamstring injury in London, "This Marathon gave me a lot of confidence," she says. "I’m sure I’m going to have another fast Marathon in the future. If they invite me, yes, I will come back."
The top American was Renee Metivier Baillie, who finished eighth in her debut in 2:27:17.