Friday, October 7, 2011

Elites to watch at the 2011 Chicago Marathon

McGrory, Frei, Mosop, Hall and Shobukova at press conference
When your mainstay marathon is a part of the World Marathon Majors race circuit, best described as a championship-style competition of five of the world's major marathons (Chicago, New York, Boston, Berlin and London, plus the IAAF World Championships and the Olympics), it's expected that you're going to see some fast feet among the elites. I might miss them every year because I'm running, but when you're on the course when Paula Radcliffe sets a world record (or not, thanks to a recent decision, but that's another story), it helps quicken your pace. Add in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon's course, known for being flat and fast and delivering a world record or two over the years, and race director Carey Pinkowski who's been at the helm for more than 20 years, and the talent is practically begging to be invited. At the elite athlete press conference the athletes are beaming when they're introduced to the crowd and those who speak echo how excited they are to be racing in Chicago--it happens every year.

With that said, here's who you want to keep your eye on Sunday, October 9, when the 34th running of the Chicago Marathon kicks off from Grant Park.

Two elite runners who were smiling even without the picture-taking
  • Moses Mosop. He ran the second fastest marathon time ever recorded, 2:03:06, at the wind assisted (if you can call it that) 2011 Boston Marathon. The crazy part? He was virtually unknown as a contender on the race scene until that race.
  • Ryan Hall. Hall unfortunately had to drop from last year's elite roster citing fatigue just weeks before race day, but he stayed true to his word and returned to the Windy City. Last year he was in town to support his STEPS Foundation and this year he's here to do that but he's also here to It's safe to say that Hall is gunning for a win and personal best on this fast course.
  • Wesley Korir. Back in 2008, before he was an elite, Korir won the open competition in Chicago with a 2:13:53. He's been back ever since, finishing 6th in 2009 and 4th last year, where his half split was his fastest.
  • Evans Cheruiyot. Here's no stranger to the Windy City. Cheruiyot won the 2008 marathon which could bode well for him on Sunday considering that those heated conditions were similar to what's predicted this year.
  • Joshua Chelanga. At 37, Chelanga is on the older side of the elite runners, but don't let that fool you. Chelanga's accomplished a lot since he last ran Chicago in 2001, including wins at the Seoul International Marathon and Rotterdam Marathon in 2007.
  • Liliya Shobukhova. This Russian phenom is looking to three-peat on Sunday, and she stands a really good chance of doing so. Why? Well for starters she doesn't have any American contenders breathing down her neck as Desi Davila, Tera Moody and Magdalena Lewy-Boulet grabbed top 10 spots last year--many of the Americans are either recovering from August's World Championships or resting up for the Olympic Trials in January.
  • Askale Tafa. Her PR is only 1:16 behind that of Shobukhova so it's definitely not a runaway race for the Russian.
  • Claire Hallissey. This Brit crossed the finish line first at August Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon, which she was using as a training race for this 26.2.
  • Leah Thorvilson. Here's an Olympic hopeful who's trying to run faster than the 2:39 PR she already has and reach the A standard for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
  • Heinz Frei and Amanda McGrory were on hand at Friday's elite athlete press conference as both are defending champions and stand a good chance of crossing first in their divisions on Sunday. Frei will have to ward off Kurt Fearnley, the Australian who's won in Chicago before and is a two-time Paralympic Champion. McGrory likens this course to competing at home--she's from Savoy, Ill., and trains in Champaign at the University of Illinois--and she's won here on more than one occasion. But her teammate Tatyana McFadden could steal the crown as she's done before as could Canadian Diane Roy who has a handful of Paralympic medals.
Who We'll Miss:
  • A familiar face at the 2009 and 2010 press conferences is missing from this year's line-up. Two-time Chicago Marathon champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Sammy Wanjiru died earlier this year, falling from a balcony at his home. The endurance sports world paid tribute to this stellar runner at Friday's elite press conference with a moving video montage and kind words by Ryan Hall that echoed the other elites' sentiments.
For a complete list of the elites competing, visit the Chicago Marathon's website. Who do you think will cross the finish line first?

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