Executive race director Carey Pinkowski always recruits a fine mix of world-class talent to Chicago’s stop on the Abbott World Marathon Majors circuit.  He’s done it again, not only with U.S. Marathon Star Galen Rupp, who took third at the Rio Olympics last summer (2:10:05) and second at Boston in April (2:09:54), but with defending Chicago champion Abel Kirul of Kenya; Chicago event record-holder Dennis Kimetto of Kenya (2:03:45); current world half-marathon world record-holder Zersenay Tadese  of Eritrea (58:23), Kohei Matsumura of Japan, Stephen Sambu of Kenya and a cast of many more, including other powerhouse runners from Japan, Zambia and beyond, including the U.S.

Here are some of the marathon personal bests in this running field of dreams: Kimetto, 2:02:57 at Berlin in 2014 Kirul (known for tactical races), 2:05:04 at Rotterdam in 2009; Matsumura, 2:08:09 at Tokyo in 2014; American Luke Puskreda, 2:10:24 at Chicago in 2015; Tadese, 2:10:41 at London in 2012; and American Jeffrey Eggleston, 2:10:52 at Gold Coast, Australia in 2014.  Another runner with no previous marathon time on the books is American Sam Chelanga.  If it’s not hot and humid, he’ll be in the hunt.  Keep in mind these performances have come in varying conditions on mostly fast courses, similar to Chicago’s.

It could happen this way.

A strong lead pack will head out and fly through the half-marathon distance at close to record pace but will be under control for later moves on open areas of the course where wind could be a factor. While all of the above-mentioned thoroughbreds are expected to be in that lead pack, one to watch will be Sambu, who has won the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K three times.  Tadese, with his world half record, also has the extra dimension.  But it is going to come down to who uses the speed and strategy in the right places at the right times.

We see Rupp, Sambu, Kirul, Tadese, Kimett, Mastumura and maybe Puskreda breaking away and by 22 or 23 miles, it will be down to three runners. The feeling here is Rupp will make another break around mile 25 and hold off the speedsters with Kirul taking second and Tadese third.  The top five could include Sambu, Kimetto, Mastumura or maybe upcoming Americans Puskreda or Diego Estrada.

The women’s race will be a traditional distance duel between Kenyan and Ethiopian superstars, but there will be red, white and blue in the mix this year.  It’s a sparkling field as Kenya’s Florence Kiplagat (2:19:44) seeks her third Chicago title in three years; she won Chicago last year in 2:21:32 and is the 15th-fastest women’s marathon runner of all time. Ethiopia’s fleet-footed Tirunesh Dibaba (2:17:56) hopes to steal the show after placing second at London in April.  Expected to be the third major player is none other than American Jordan Hasay, who earned the fastest debut time ever by an American woman by almost three minutes at Boston in April (2:23:00). Hasay also tuned up with a victory in the USATF 20K at New Haven, clocking 1:06:35. Those podium picks will have plenty of competition, including Kenyan Valentine Kipketer and Australian Lisa Weightman.

This race is likely to shape up after 15 but before 20 miles.  That’s when Kiplagat and Dibaba should be able to put some daylight between themselves and the rest of the field.  Hasay will be leading the chase pack, which should include Kipketer, Weightman, Poland’s Karolina Nadolska and maybe others. Anything can happen in a marathon and usually does. We see Dibaba showing how savvy and speedy she can be, making a strategic “go for the home run” move around 23 miles. She’ll win with Kiplagat placing a strong second, nailing down her fourth Chicago podium finish in four years (two firsts, two seconds).  Hasay will push up the Roosevelt “hill” and hang on for third place, her second top-three performance in two Abbott World Marathon Major races.  As with the men, finish times should be fast, but will depend on the weather.  If conditions are good, Paula Radcliffe’s Chicago women’s record of 2:17:18, could fall. The British icon will be here to watch the race.

Could we have Americans on both podiums?

“Galen and Jordan are huge talents who have the ability to capture podium finishes,” Pinkowski says. “The last time we had an American male and female place in the top three together was 1996. (Jerry Lawson and Kristy Johnson both placed second).”

And what about Joan Benoit Samuelson’s bid to set a world best in the Female 60-64 age group?  The current mark is 3:01:30. Rewriting record books is nothing new for her.  She won the first women’s Olympic gold medal in 1984, and in 1985 won Chicago in 2:21:21, an American record that lasted until 2003. Look for her to break three hours, maybe even dipping under 2:59.

“Story telling is important to me and it’s how I motivate myself,” Samuelson says.  “My race decisions often reflect my narrative.  Once I turned 60, I knew that the Oct. 8 Chicago race would represent the next chapter in my career.”

Let the suspense begin as big-time marathon runners gear up for Chicago’s 40th.


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