By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
CHICAGO (12-Oct) -- In nearly ideal running conditions, Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Rita Jeptoo, convincingly won the 37th Bank of America Chicago Marathon, each earning $100,000 in prize money. Moreover, Jeptoo locked up the 2013/2014 World Marathon Majors series title with a perfect 100 points, guaranteeing her a further $500,000 bonus. They recorded winning times of 2:04:11 and 2:24:35, respectively.
Most of the pre-race hype focused on three-time Olympic gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele who ran his second marathon here today after a successful debut in Paris last April. Indeed, Bekele --helped by his brother Tariku who was a pacemaker-- was in the thick of the race when 11 men, including three pacemakers, went through the halfway point in 62:11, about half a minute slower than race director Carey Pinkowski planned. Kipchoge was right behind the pacers biding his time.
Tariku Bekele peeled off after the halfway point leaving Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea to lead the group. Nearly all of the top men were still in contention: Kenyans Kipchoge, Lani Rutto, Sammy Kitwara, Bernard Koech, and Dickson Chumba, and Ethiopians Bekele, Tadese Tola and Feyisa Lilesa. Kenya's Wesley Korir, the 2012 Boston Marathon champion, had fallen two minutes behind.
The big break in the race occurred between 30 and 35 kilometers when Kipchoge, Chumba, Kitwara and Koech moved ahead. Bekele, who said he was feeling tired, simply couldn't follow them.
"My body was not fresh; I was tired," Bekele told reporters. He continued: "My body was not reacting. When they pick-up the pace, my body was not reacting well."
Bekele quickly fell out of contention for the podium, but managed to pass a the fading Koech to eventually take fourth in 2:05:51. Ahead of him, Kipchoge appeared to be running smoothly, but he later admitted that he wasn't sure if he could drop Kitwara and Chumba.
"After 30 kilometers it was not easy," Kipchoge said. "I tried to push, but everyone was there. At 36 (kilometers), they were still there, and I was a little worried."
Kipchoge didn't have to worry for long. He covered the five kilometers between 35 and 40-K in a snappy 14:32, and the others couldn't follow. He had a 6-second lead at 40-K which would grow to 17 seconds by the finish. Kipchoge began to feel more like he was in a track race sprinting for the win.
"For me today is was a real race," Kipchoge said. "It was like a championships."
His time of 2:04:11 was just outside of his personal best of 2:04:05, and was the second-fastest winning time here. He ran nearly perfect halves of 62:11 and 62:00. He credited his coach, Patrick Sang, and his training group in Kaptagat which includes world 30-K record holder Emmanuel Mutai and Olympic and world champion Stephen Kiprotich.
"The coaching of Patrick Sang is the best," Kipchoge intoned. He added: "The coaching system I used in Kenya helped me prepare very well. That's why I win in Chicago."
Kitwara came home second in 2:04:28 and Chumba was third in 2:04:32, both personal bests. Back in ninth place, former NCAA 5000m champion Bobby Curtis was the top American in 2:11:20, a two-minute personal best for the Villanova grad.
"I was hoping for 2:11 or maybe a little under," Curtis told reporters. "So, I'm very happy with 2:11:20."
JEPTOO IGNORES CLOCK AND RUNS TO WIN
Race director Pinkowski had planned a 69-minute first half for the top women behind two male pacemakers, but that goal quickly went out the window when American Amy Hastings found herself leading the race in a much more restrained 34:22 at 10-K. Jeptoo quickly abandoned any thoughts of going after a time goal, and instead shifted her focus strictly to winning instead. A victory, and the valuable World Marathon Majors points which would go with it, were far more important.
"The pace was starting was good until after 10-K we ran like slow," Jeptoo explained to the media after the race. "So, actually I want to say everybody was looking for me (to lead). Sometimes, you cannot push if everybody is ready."
Hastings, who had built up a small lead, drifted 10 seconds behind Jeptoo, Kenyan compatriot Florence Kiplagat, and Ethiopians Birhane Dibaba, Mare Dibaba, and Gelete Burka at halfway (1:12:35). Jeptoo felt some resistance from the wind and decided to stay with the group and wait to strike.
"Actually the course was good, but the weather was not good because it was windy," she recounted. "The last 15-K was like windy.
At 35-K, Jeptoo, Kiplagat and the two Dibaba's were still together in 2:00:45. Jeptoo decided that she had waited long enough, and like Kipchoge, used the next 5 kilometers to put the race away, recording a 16:37 split.
"She just turned on the jets and off she went," said Olympic Marathon gold medalist Joan Samuelson on the local television broadcast.
From there, Jeptoo sailed to the finish line in Grant Park to record her fourth consecutive World Marathon Majors race title. She is the first athlete, male or female, to win four consecutive WMM events.
"Today is a great day for me and for my fans," said Jeptoo. "I was so happy when I was running. I was having fun on the road. I'm happy to run here."
The battle of the Dibaba's went to Mare who finished second in 2:25:37. Kiplagat got third (2:25:57) and Birhane Dibaba fourth (2:27:02). Hastings finished a credible fifth in 2:27:02 exactly equaling her personal best.
"My PR (personal record) was from 2011 and I was nervous I would never get back there," an elated Hastings told the media. "In the marathon, you just don't know what will happen. Just last year, it went bad. When you have those moments when it went well you have to be happy and live in the moment and just enjoy it."
PHOTO: Rita Jeptoo and Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya celebrate their 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon victories (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)