Will we see a world record on Sunday?
New York may have the depth this fall, but the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon boasts the fastest men’s field of the final to marathon majors. Topping the list is the young 22-year-old Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru, the 2008 Olympic champion and world record holder at the half marathon. Wanjiru leads a group of men ready to take on the streets of Chicago on what may become another historic day in the Windy City.
Wanjiru has to be the overwhelming favorite going in to the race this Sunday. With personal bests of 58:33 for the half marathon and 2:05:10 for the full marathon, Wanjiru tops all of his competitors. The young Kenyan also obliterated the field last year in Beijing with a truly scorching 2:06:32 Olympic record in which proved he could run, and run fast, in any weather thrown at him. The only question mark to his season is a somewhat mediocre showing at the Rotterdam half marathon in which he mustered a 61:08. This is still fast, but not the showing we had all expected out of the world record holder. If that proved that there is a chink in the armor of the young phenom, who could come up and prove their prowess against a vulnerable Wanjiru?
It seems as though Wanjiru’s main competition will come from Moroccan Abderrahim Goumri and compatriot Vincent Kipruto. Goumri has a personal best of 2:05:30 and three marathon majors runner-up finishes. Goumri faded in London this Spring, but was still able to hang on for a 6th place finish in 2:08:25. Kipruto has the third fastest PR coming in to the race, a 2:05:47 clocking from Paris this March. Kipruto doesn’t race much and there is no way of knowing if he is ready to PR again in 2009, which he will likely have to do if he wants to take down Wanjiru.
Outside of the three sub-2:06 men, there are probably no less than 5 other men that could step up and finish on the podium in Chicago. There are two men who will be making their marathon debuts that could turn some heads and quickly find themselves in the marathoning limelight. Kenyan Chales Munyeki has an impressive 59:44 half marathon best from 2008 and an additional two more under 60:20, one coming just a few weeks ago in Rotterdam. Munyeki’s time in Rotterdam was 60:18, a full :50 seconds ahead of favorite Wanjiru, something to take note of for sure. Ethiopian Tadese Tola would love to earn a victory for his country, his personal best of 60:45 in the half marathon proves he has the speed to run with the contenders, but marathon debuts can be dicey.
Kenyan Wesley Korir, a graduate of University of Louisville, broke out at the 2009 L.A. Marathon to win in 2:08:24, a five-minute personal best. If he wants to see himself on the podium in Chicago Korir will likely need to bring that PR down another 90-seconds. Two marathoning stalwarts, Richard Limo and Ben Maiyo have both run in the 2:07’s, but have not shown much recently. All three of these men could pop a good race, but they will all have to exceed expectations to do so.
With most of the American talent going to New York in November for the US men’s marathon championship, the field of homegrown talent is sparse. Three athletes are been pined as potential spoilers including Chicago native Pat Rizzo who was 15h in Boston in 2009, Seth Pilkington of Utah who ran an impressive 60:07 at the 2009 New Haven 20K and Brett Schoolmeester, a Colorado grad, who has a 1:05:34 personal best for the half marathon. Pilkington and Schoolmeester will be making their debuts at the distance in Chicago.
The race should be fast from the gun, with four scheduled pace setters ready to go out, reportedly, between 1:01:40 and 1:02:10 for the half. If they are able to keep that torent pace up through 30K we could see some magic. Here are my predictions:
1. Sammy Wanjiru—Kenya
2. Charles Munyeki—Kenya
3. Tadese Tola—Ethipia
4. Abderrahim Goumri—Morocco
5. Vincent Kipruto—Kenya
If the weather holds I think we will see personal bests thoroughout the top-10. A world record? I don’t see it happening but stranger things have happened and Wanjiru is a special talent, so expect anything!