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Posted: October 10, 2009  :

(RRW) Athletics: Kastor VS. Mikitenko Makes For Interesting Match-Up In Chicago

From David Monti
© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

CHICAGO (10-Oct) -- The course for Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon is renowned for being smooth and flat, but the paths take by both Deena Kastor and Irina Mikitenko, the chief protagonists in the women's race, had more than a few potholes.

Kastor, 36, the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist in the marathon and the USA marathon record holder (2:19:36), hasn't completed a marathon in 18 months. After winning the USA Olympic Team Trials marathon in April, 2008, in Boston, Kastor made her best-ever marathon preparation in advance of the Beijing Olympics. But her race there ended before the 5 km mark when a bone in her right foot suddenly snapped, ending her quest for a second Olympic medal.

Under coach Terrence Mahon of the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., Kastor slowly returned to running at the beginning of the year. She didn't compete in a race until the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8-K last March --part of her agreement to run the marathon here-- running through a freak spring snowstorm in 27 minutes and 15 seconds. By May, she was finding her form again, winning the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run 10-K and finishing third in the Bay to Breakers 12-K. It seemed like she was finally getting back on track.

But a second foot injury cropped up in late May, an inflammation of her right big toe, and again Kastor's training was set back, an incident she called "a scare."

"I wasn't sure if my body could handle this any more," she told reporters yesterday at a news conference.

Kastor was forced to change how she ran the NYRR New York Mini 10-K last June, accompanying race director Mary Wittenberg at a 7 minute-per-mile pace instead of contesting for the win. She grudgingly switched to cross training for much of the summer (which gave her some time to complete a cookbook she had been working on) and allowed the toe to heal. Slowly, she went back to running and competed in the warm and humid NYC Half-Marathon last August, her first real competition in three months.

"I did have what was meant to be a tune-up race, but it didn't go as I would have liked," Kastor said of her seventh place, 1:13:48 effort, her slowest-ever half-marathon. "That race gave me the momentum to hunker down at home. I'm really happy with how my training went."

By her own accounting, Kastor comes into this event with five very good weeks of training under her belt and enough confidence to compete for the win.

"The past five weeks of my training have really proved that my coach, Terrence Mahon, is brilliant at getting me ready at the right time," she said. "So I'm pretty excited."

For Mikitenko, 37, who will collect her second consecutive World Marathon Majors (WMM) points title in November (she has an insurmountable lead in the 2008/2009 series), her appearance here represents Plan "B." The German marathon record holder, with a 2:19:19 personal best, was to have been one of her nation's top stars at the recent IAAF World Championships in Berlin last August. But Mikitenko pulled out of the marathon there just weeks before the meet, distraught over the death of her father with whom she was very close. She still has trouble talking about it.

"Obviously, it's still a tough topic for me to talk about that," she said yesterday through a translator. "It was a tragic loss for me. He was the most important person in my life. We had a very good relationship. He was always proud of what I was doing, like the running. So, that's why I want to show him, and run good just for him."

On paper, Kastor and Mikitenko are closely matched. Only 17 seconds separate their career best marathon times, and both have achieved four WMM podium finishes (two wins for Kastor and three for Mikitenko). Kastor has the edge at shorter distances, with faster times at 10,000m and the half-marathon, but Mikitenko won two Majors in 2008 and 2009 while Kastor was sidelined with injury. That would seem to give Mikitenko an edge.

Nonetheless, the soft-spoken German sounded somewhat tentative. Taking a deep breath before speaking, she said of resuming her training after her father's death: "At the beginning it was hard. But, it went better and better. I think we have good competition here and, of course, I hope to run fast."

* * * * *

Although the weather here has improved from yesterday's driving rain which caused the waters of Lake Michigan to froth into whitecaps, more rain is expected later today which could leave the roadway slick for tomorrow's race. It will indeed be cold for the race forecasters say, just above the freezing mark for the 7:30 a.m. start, but the sun will be out for the entire day. Winds are expected at 8 MPH (13 KPH) from the northwest. Because the course is a relatively narrow loop, the wind will help at some points and hurt at others. Most significantly, athletes should face a stiff headwind in the final 5 km which runs from south to north.

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