Sammy Wanjiru and Liliya Shobukhova lead the elite fields at this year’s Chicago Marathon
DEFENDING champion Sammy Wanjiru leads an all-star field in the men’s race but the Olympic champion hasn’t been operating at optimum form in 2010.
The Kenyan, who won London last year in 2:05:10 and Chicago in 2:05:41, dropped out of this year’s Virgin London Marathon with a right-knee injury and the Japan-based runner also failed to finish a low-key road-race in Castelbuono. Given the stature of the elite field, Wanjiru will need to be in top form to defend his title but recent results do not inspire much optimism.
With the Olympic champion operating below his best, many people’s pre-race favourite is Olympic and world bronze medallist Tsegaye Kebede from Ethiopia. Kebede, who was narrowly beaten by Wanjiru in London last year, claimed the title this year in a PB of 2:05:19 and is a two-time winner of the Fukuoka Marathon.
Wanjiru will also face a threat from Vincent Kipruto, who has made a tremendous improvement in the past 18 months. The Kenyan was a virtual unknown when he won the Paris Marathon last year in 2:05:47 and this was followed by a third-place finish in Chicago in 2:06:08. Kipruto was also third in Rotterdam this year in a PB of 2:05:13.
Other contenders include Feyisa Lilesa from Ethiopia, who has also made a sudden rush onto the international stage. Lilesa finished fourth in Rotterdam in 2:05:23 and became the youngest athlete to break the sub-2:06 barrier at 20.
Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, not to be confused with former winner Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, won Boston this year in a course record of 2:05:52 and will be gunning for his second big-city marathon win of the year.
Deriba Merga, who holds a PB of 2:06:38, is another threat, along with his compatriot Negari Terfa.
Liliya Shobukhova from Russia has looked superb in her two most recent marathons and the defending women’s champion will be seeking to extend her dominance of the World Marathon Majors series with her third victory in twelve months at the Chicago Marathon on October 10.
After making a sound debut in London last year in 2:24:14, Shobukhova eased away from Irina Miktenko in the closing stages of last year’s Chicago Marathon to win in 2:25:56 and the former world indoor 3000m record-holder became the first Russian winner of the London Marathon this year, setting a world-lead of 2:22:00.
Even though Shobukhova’s track campaign failed to make the same impression, the defending champion still starts as the athlete to beat.
Shobukhova will renew her rivalry with Mikitenko although the 38-year-old from Germany is somewhat of an unknown quantity heading into this race.
The former Kazakh, who took second in this year last year in 2:26:31, was hoping to emulate compatriot Kathrin Dorre-Heinig with her third successive London Marathon title in April but Mikitenko was forced to drop out at a relatively early stage with a calf injury.
Mikitenko was hoping to make amends with a strong showing at the European Championships but a lack of fitness prevented her participation. The former two-time Olympic 5000m finalist also pulled out of the Great North Run last month with the flu.
Shobukhova will also face stern opposition from compatriots Lidiya Grigoryeva and Mariya Konovalova. Grigoryeva has also tasted success in the Chicago Marathon with victory in 2008, as well as triumphs in Los Angeles in 2006 and Boston in 2007.
Konovalova set an inauspicious time of 2:35:21 on her debut in London this year but the 35-year-old was forced to stop in the early stages with an injury and is clearly capable of something faster.
As ever, look for a strong Ethiopian showing at the helm of the elite race. Their brace is led by Askale Tafa, who is back in form after a stress fracture put her on the sidelines for most of 2009.
Tafa holds the second fastest PB in the field at 2:21:31 and the Ethiopian finished fifth in London this year in 2:24:39.
Atsede Bayisa will be making her World Marathon Majors debut and starts as another of the leading contenders. Bayisa defended her Paris Marathon title this year in a PB of 2:22:04.
Also watch out for Mamitu Daska, who won the Dubai Marathon in January in 2:24:19.
Liz Yelling finished a sterling fourth in searing temperatures in 2007 and the two-time Olympian will be contesting her first marathon since starting a family.
The Bedford & County athlete has suffered a few setbacks in her build-up but the Commonwealth bronze medallist from Melbourne is confident of performing well.