WITH CONTRASTING STYLES, KIRUI, KIPLAGAT PREVAIL AT CHICAGO MARATHON
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
CHICAGO (09-Oct) — On a picture-perfect fall day here, Kenya’s Abel
Kirui and Florence Kiplagat won the 39th Bank of America Chicago
Marathon using completely different tactics. Kirui, twice the world
marathon champion, survived a slow and unevenly-paced men’s race to win
in 2:11:23, the slowest winning time here since 1993. Kiplagat, the
defending champion, blew away the women’s field with a powerful surge
past the 30-K mark to win by about two minutes in a fast 2:21:32.
Both athletes won $100,000 in prize money at this Abbott World Marathon
Majors event, while Kiplagat pocketed an additional $10,000 time bonus
for breaking 2:23.
Like last year, Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski did not employ
pacemakers, and the elite men and women collectively made very
different decisions on how to approach the race. The men went out at a
painfully slow pace of 16:06 for the first 5 kilometers (about a 2:16
pace) while the women hit the same split less than a minute behind in
16:56, about a 2:23 pace. The die was cast.
“It’s incredibly slow,” said commentator Tim Hutchings of the men’s contest.
Moreover, the men’s pace was uneven. There were several surges by
Kenya’s Paul Lonyangata, followed by entertaining chases where
Lonyangata swerved across the roadway to try to shake compatriot Gideon
Kipketer. None of these moves did anything to break of the race, and a
huge lead pack of 20 men lumbered through 10-K in 32:04. That group
was only whittled down to 14 by the halfway mark (1:06:51). All of the
main contenders were still on contention, including defending champion
Dickson Chumba, Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Micah Kogo, top
American from last year Luke Puskedra, Lonyangata, Kipketer and Kirui.
Meanwhile, the women decided the cool, sunny and only slightly windy
conditions were too good to waste on a slow pace. Seven women
–Kenyans Visiline Jepkesho, Florence Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat, Purity
Rionoripo and Valentine Kipketer, and Ethiopians Yebrgual Melese and
Atsede Baysa– ran clustered together, clocking honest 5 km segments of
16:56, 16:43, 16:31 and 16:37 through 20 km. Only Baysa, who endured a
fall, was dropped by half-way (1:10:29).
“It was good running,” Florence Kiplagat said later. “I set the pace faster than I thought (but) I was comfortable.”
Incredibly, the men would slow down further. With no athlete willing
to take up the pace, they jogged from 25 to 30 km in 16:13, with Kirui
sharing the lead of a still too-big pack of 12. Kirui was itching to
go faster, but he vowed to his Italian coach, Renato Canova (who also
coached Florence Kiplagat), that he would stay with the group.
“I wanted to go, I wanted to go,” Kirui later told the media. “Then I remember what coach was telling me: go with the group.”
It was at the same point, 30-K, that Florence Kiplagat decided she had
waited long enough. She blasted away from the field, covering the next
5 kilometers in a snappy 16:17, nearly as fast as the men’s slowest
split. In an instant, every other woman was running for second.
“Florence was so aggressive from 30 km because she knew the course,”
said Edna Kiplagat, who would finish a distant second in a
still-credible 2:23:28. “So I tried to pick up my pace.”
Valentine Kipketer, a sister of Gideon Kipketer, would finish third in
2:23:41, followed by Rionoripo (2:24:47) and Melese (2:24:49).
But for Kirui, the race was only beginning. Just before 35-K,
Lonyangata made another surge which took the lead pack from an even
dozen to only four at 35-K: Chumba, Kipketer, Kirui, and Lonyangata.
Kirui, who won back-to-back world marathon titles in 2009 and 2011, was
ready to respond, but didn’t want to go too early.
“So In my mind I know that something is going to happen,” Kirui recalled. “I was very careful to see who was going to strike.”
Lonyangata was the first to fall back, then Kipketer fell off. Kirui
and Chumba sped through the 5 km segment from 35 to 40-K in 14:45,
easily the fastest of the race. They were neck-in-neck with a
comfortably 24-second lead over Kipketer. Only one would win.
There is a small hill before the final finish straight, and Kirui used
it to make his move on Chumba. Furiously pumping his arms, he left
Chumba behind, achieving a three-second gap which would hold to the
tape. Chumba clocked 2:11:26, followed by Kipketer in 2:12:20 and
Lonyangata in 2:13:17. Stephen Sambu, making his marathon debut,
finished fifth in 2:13:35.
“For me, I’m very excited, surely,” said a jubilant Kirui who
celebrated at the finish line with a little dance. “It’s my first time
to win a race on American soil. That was my big desire.”
Back in 8th place, Diego Estrada of Flagstaff, Ariz., was the top
American, finishing his first marathon in 2:13:56 (he had dropped out
of the USA Olympic Trials in Los Angeles last February in his first
attempt at the distance). Sadly, he stepped on a competitor’s water
bottle at the 10-K fluid station, rolling his right ankle. He thought
about dropping out, but couldn’t bring himself to stop.
“I didn’t know if I should drop out or continue,” a determined Estrada
told the media after coming into the press room on crutches. “I just
told myself that wasn’t an option.”
Puskedra finished 19th in 2:20:18, and Serena Burla was the top
American on the women’s side in seventh place in 2:30:40. Sarah Crouch
(9th in 2:33:48) and Alia Gray (10th in 2:34:00) made it three USA
women in the top-10.
A total of 41,350 runners started today’s race.