CHICAGO (11-Oct) -- Kenya's Samuel Wanjiru and Russia's Liliya Shobukhova both scored convincing victories here today at the 32nd Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the penultimate stop for this year's World Marathon Majors series.
Wanjiru, the reigning Olympic Marathon gold medallist who wore a headband and arm warmers to shake off the near-freezing temperatures at the start, followed the aggressive early tempo of pacemakers Patrick Ivuti (himself a former Chicago champion) Wilson Kebenei, and Mathew Koech. The pace was indeed hot: 29:10 through 10 km, a 2:03 marathon pace.
"I told the pacemaker to push the pace," Wanjiru explained after the race.
Koech soon fell away, leaving Ivuti and Kebenei to shepherd the race's protagonists: Wanjiru, Ben Maiyo, Charles Munyeki, Isaac Macharia, and Vincent Kipruto, all of Kenya, and Ethiopian debutant Tadese Tola. Morocco's Abderrahim Goumri, the second-fastest man in the field, chose to run off the pace, a plan which would eventually pay big dividends.
Ivuti held the pace steady at about 14 minutes and 50 seconds for each 5 kilometer segment. That was too fast for Tola, the two-time NYC Half-Marathon champion, who fell off the pace to eventually finish 9th in 2:15:48. Maiyo and Macharia also fell back, leaving just three contenders with Ivuti: Kipruto, Wanjiru and Munyeki at 62:01 at the half-way. That was fine with Wanjiru.
"It was my plan to run 62-flat," he said.
Ivuti made it to the 25-K mark before retiring, leaving the three contenders to fight it out for the win. Wanjiru bided his time through 35 km, before hitting the accelerator and deciding the race for good. Now it was only Chicago's cold winds which could stop him from running a fast time.
"I get a lot of wind from 36 km," Wanjiru said. "I ran alone. The wind was very strong."
But not strong enough. Despite celebrating his victory prematurely, Wanjiru nonetheless broke Khalid Khannouchi's 1999 course record by one second, clocking 2:05:41. That second was precious, bringing him a $100,000 bonus on top of the $75,000 first place prize (he would have gotten a $75,000 bonus for sub-2:05:56 instead). Wanjiru later admitted that he wasn't aware of his of how close he was to the record and the bonus, which caused his manager, Federico Rosa, to smile and shake his head.
"For me I do not think about the course record," he said. "I was very happy to be the winner. I've very happy to take $100,000 for one second."
Goumri, who was in tenth place at half-way in 1:02:50, had moved up steadily in the second half. By 30 km he was in 5th position, 50 seconds behind third place Munyeki. Five kilometers later he was in fourth place and the gap was down to 29 seconds, and by 40 km the Moroccan record holder had passed Munyeki and had his sights on the fading Kipruto. He knew that his experience at the distance was on his side.
"Even if they are great at track or cross country they are boys in the marathon," he said of his younger rivals.
Goumri caught Kipruto in the final kilometer, to finish second in 2:06:04. Kipruto crossed four seconds later, and Munyeki in 2:07:06, a personal best.
"From starting point to finish it was perfect," Wanjiru concluded.
Late Surge Puts Shobukhova In The Winner's Circle
While the men were following their pacers in the early kilometers and flirting with the world record, the women took a wait-and-see attitude. The slow half-way split of 1:15:04 told the story, and nearly all of them complained that the cold conditions and the lack of a pacemaker was the reason.
"I was a little unsure because the weather condition were so cold," said Germany's Irina Mikitenko of her pace. The fastest women in the field said of having no pacemakers: "Maybe we would be faster. It would be good to have some."
But the secret to winning a marathon is making a good play of the cards which have been dealt. On that score, Russia's Liliya Shobukhova made the smartest bet. Running with Ethiopia's Teyba Erkesso and Berhane Adere, compatriot Lidiya Grigoryeva, Mikitenko, and Japan's Mizuho Masukawa, Shobukhova waited all the way to 40 km before making her big move. Her surge was quick and powerful, leaving all of her rivals quickly behind.
"They were looking at each other, Lydia and Irina; who will go first?," she recounted. "Three kilometers before the finish line, I thought this is my territory."
In a blink, the others were running for second. Shobukhova, her ponytail bouncing behind her, whisked to the finish to win in 2:25:56, her first marathon victory and her second podium in just two tries at the distance (she was third in London last April). Mikitenko, who had already wrapped up the World Marathon Majors annual $500,000 prize before the race even started, finished second in 2:26:31, and Grigoryeva, last year's champion, got third 16 seconds later.
For American record holder Deena Kastor, it was a difficult day. "She said her stomach was bothering her the whole time," explained her coach Terrence Mahon of the Mammoth Track Club. "She wasn't really comfortable. She said she lost a minute."
That minute was spent in a toilet near the 35-K mark where Kastor was forced to finally stop after fighting off the urge to go for about an hour.
"Just an early race start and didn't get myself moving early enough," Kastor later said.
Nonetheless, Kastor still managed to finish a respectable sixth in 2:28:50, and was relieved to finally finish another marathon after being forced to drop out of the Beijing Olympic Marathon with a broken foot. It was her first completed marathon in 18 months.
"I was grateful to be out there today," said Kastor as she thanked the race organizers and her sponsors. "Every step of the way I was filled with gratitude."