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Chicago Marathon 2011 - Women's Field Bios
By Sharon Ekstrom
Liliya Shobukhova |
Christelle Daunay |
Magarsa Assale Tafa |
Inga Abitova |
Benita Willis |
Liliya Shobukhova (Russia)
photo: Victah Sailer / Photo Run
PB: 2:20:15, 2011 London Marathon
Liliya Shobukhova, two-time Chicago Marathon Champion and Russian national record holder, returns to the field attempting to three-peat.
Having built her reputation on the track in the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m, she made quite an entrance into the marathon distance when she debuted at the 2009 London Marathon. Having prepared for a 2:27 or 2:25 finish, Shobukhova surprised herself earning 3rd place in 2:24:24.
She followed up that achievement with a victory at the 2009 Chicago Marathon in 2:25:56. While the win was impressive, her strategy in the race was incredible, as she surged then completed the final mile of the race in 4:35 (the fastest mile in the race) - besting veteran marathoners like 2009 London Marathon defending champion Irina Mikitenko, 2010 Houston and Boston Marathon winner Teyba Erkesso and Ethiopian national record holder in the marathon Berhane Adere.
For 2010, Shobukhova returned to London, once again taking on Mikitenko and a strong field of Russian and Ethiopian talent. Duplicating her finish in Chicago, Shobukhova unhampered by rain sped to victory in the last mile of the race (2:22:25), proving herself as a tough competitor who can deliver a devastating finishing kick. Focused on the marathon distance alone, Shobukhova, 33, bested the field at the 2010 Chicago Marathon; proving that not only does she have the speed, but the strategy and patience to not get carried away by the frantic pace the rabbit and lead Ethiopian challengers failed to maintain. She passed them with a mile to go and took an easy victory in 2:20:25 setting a Russian national record. While disappointed in not breaking 2:20, she took the WMM prize purse for 2009/2010.
At the 2011 London Marathon, this 10th fastest woman in the world attempted to take her fourth consecutive marathon title. After an incredibly fast start, Shobukhova didn't have the wherewithall to catch Mary Keitany who ran off with a victory at mile 14 of the race...a similar strategy that had been employed by Shobukhova in the past - pushing hard early on.
Shobukhova, 33, has become one of the top marathoners that has consistently performed well and pushed the envelope driving for faster times. Without a doubt, she will break the 2:20 mark if the conditions in Chicago are good on race day. As for the win, she is the clear favorite.
Christelle Daunay (France)
photo: Victah Sailer / Photo Run
PB: 2:24:22, 2010 Paris Marathon
Christelle Daunay, Olympian and French national marathon record holder, is running her first Chicago Marathon. With four top 3 finishes at the Paris Marathon (2007, 2009, 2010) and the New York City Marathon (2009), Daunay has shown steady improvements in the marathon while her racing schedule still incorporates a mix of track races from 1500m to 10000m, cross country and half and full marathons.
In 2009, Daunay saw a breakthrough and set a personal record of 2:25:43 at the Paris Marathon proving that the hard marathon training was beginning to pay off. She proved herself in the highly competitive field of the New York City Marathon in 2009 finishing 3rd on 2:29:16.
In 2010, at the Paris Marathon she shattered her previous French national marathon record by over 1 minute finishing in 2:24:22 (2nd place). Also in 2010, Daunay ran a number of personal bests on the track and in the Reims Half-Marathon her first sub-70:00 finish (68:34). After she took 6th in her return to the 2010 New York City Marathon a 6th place in 2:29:29, Daunay stepped away from the marathon distance for Spring 2011 and returned to the track. She earned silver at EC 2011 and was a finalist in the 10000m at the 2011 WC in the 10000m.
At 36, Daunay is having a season of personal bests on the track in 3000m and 5000m. She has also won the French Cross Country 7.0km National Championships. If these steady improvements are indicative of her abilities, she can continue to shine at the 2011 Chicago Marathon.
Magarsa Assale Tafa (aka Askale Tafa Margarsa) (Ethiopia)
photo credit: Victah Sailer / Photo Run
PB: 2:21:31, 2008 Berlin Marathon
Magarsa Assale Tafa of Ethiopia is a marathon specialist with 15 career marathons to her resume. Tafa began in the 26.2 distance at age 21 in 2005 with two 3rd place finishes at the Rome and Berlin Marathons (2:32:34 and 2:28:27). She quickly gained experience with her three marathons per year regimen consistently finishing in the top four and taking victories at the 2007 Milan Marathon (2:27:57), 2008 Dubai Marathon (2:27:19) and 2008 Paris Marathon (2:25:07).
While her performance at the 2007 World Championship marathon was rather lackluster, Tafa gained momentum at other World Marathon Major races. In 2008 she took 5th in Boston (2:29:48) and 2nd in Berlin (2:21:31) which incidentally was the second fastest women's marathon finish of 2008 behind Irina Mikitenko's victory and course record at that same race.
She hit a roadblock in 2009 - dropping out near the halfway mark at the Berlin Marathon. Her performances in 2010 were less indicative of her previous finishes - with a 6th place (2:27:29) at the 2010 Dubai Marathon, a 5th place (2:24:39) at the London Marathon, a 12th place finish at the Chicago Marathon (2:32:24) - one of her slowest marathons ever - and a 11th place at the 2011 London Marathon (2:25:24).
Tafa returns to Chicago where defending champion Liliya Shobukhova will once again be the dominant contender to beat. Will Tafa once again be broken by the blistering opening pace of Shobukhova who most likely is looking to break 2:20? Tafa has not raced since the London Marathon. If training has been going well, Tafa comes to the race with fresh legs and perhaps looking for redemption.
Inga Abitova (Russia)
photo credit: Victah Sailer / Photo Run
PB: 2:22:19, 2010 Berlin Marathon
2010 European Silver medalist in the 10000m, Inga Abitova of Russia, 29, will be racing her second marathon in the US. Abitova is part of the new generation of Russian marathoners to replaced their veteran compatriots ever so dominant on elite rosters for over a decade. The new generation is also stepping up their performances providing a rivalry to the top Africans in the distance. Abitova is one of them.
She began her running career in the 3000m before turning to the 10000m and Marathon in 2004 and 2005 at age 23. She debuted in the marathon distance at the 2005 Belgrade Marathon taking victory in 2:38:20, and was a runner-up finish in 2:33:55 at 2006 Mumbai Marathon. She won the European Championships 10000m also in 2006 and became the 2007 Russian National Champion in the 10000m.
Abitova ran the London Marathon for the first time in 2007 finishing 9th in an unimpressive 2:34:25; but her focus remained on the track. Abitova was sixth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics 10000m (behind Flanagan who finished third) and took the silver medal at the 2010 European Championships.
Beginning in 2009, Abitova began to see breakthroughs in the marathon, improving her time to 2:25:55 at the 2009 London Marathon (6th place) and winning the Yokohama Marathon in 2:27:18 which gave her all the confidence she needed. Abivtova returned to the 2010 London Marathon for the third time - this time finishing as runner-up in a personal best of 2:22:19, behind her fellow Russian Liliya Shobukhova. She followed the performance with a 4th at the New York City Marathon (2:29:17). An early leader, she was unable to hold onto the 4:53 pace at mile 23.
At the 2011 London Marathon, Abitova, who settled comfortably in the lead pack, was once again broken by the fast initial miles and finished 2:26:31 (15th place). The jury is out on how Abitova will do at the 2011 Chicago Marathon. The third fastest on the roster, she will be running Chicago for the first time and taking on two rivals fro the 2011 London race. If she has since perfected her race strategy, she could very well place top three, if not win.
Benita Willis (Australia)
photo credit: Victah Sailer / Photo Run
PB: 2:22:36, 2006 Chicago Marathon
Benita Willis of Australia started off her running career as as a prolific track and cross country runner before transitioning to the roads before eventually becoming the Australian marathon record holder in 2003. Willis, a three-time Olympian from 2000-2008, attended the games in the 5000m, 10000m and marathon, respectively; and is currently competitive in various distances on the track and on the roads.
As a distance runner, she ran four sub-70 minute half-marathons between 2003-2007 with a personal best in 27:55 at the 2004 Great North Run. She proved herself a marathoner with four top-10 finishes at the big marathons (London and Chicago). She was on a roll when she most notably grabbed a personal best (2:22:36) and third place finish at her third career marathon.
Willis returned to Chicago in 2007 finishing fifth in 2:38:30, which was not a bad effort in a year best remembered for the 80 degree temperatures that forced the race organizers to cancel the race in later hours.
The 2011 Chicago Marathon will be Willis' third time to the Chicago course that holds her fastest finish, and her return to the marathon distance for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But it hasn't been easy for Willis who is coming into the race following a number of setbacks beginning in 2008 - the death of her father while she was racing in the US, the divorce from her husband, and the failure to place top ten at the Olympic marathon after throwing herself into her training. While she spent 2009-2010 making a slow return to racing in primarily shorter distances, Willis who has been racing since 1996 has proven talent, drive and dedication. And while circumstances have proven that she has the fortitude, marathons are all about overcoming physical and mental barriers through training and racing.
Wei Yanan (China)
PB: 2:23:12, 2007 Seoul Marathon
Wei Yanan of China is one of the few elites in the 2011 Chicago Marathon field who remains relatively unknown on elite rosters of the west, despite having 30 marathons under her belt. At 29, she has been racing the 26.2 mile distance for well over a decade; but as with most Asian athletes, she infrequently races outside of Asia with one prior exception - her third career marathon - the 2001 Boston Marathon.
At 19, Yanan finished 8th at the 2001 Boston Marathon in 2:29:52 behind the likes of some of the best distance runners in the world - Catherine the Great Ndereba, Lornah Kiplagat and Ludmila Petrova - not bad for someone who starting marathoning one year earlier.
Yanan's debut earned her a fourth at China's Marathon Championships (2:37:10). She followed up with a win at the 2000 Beijing Marathon in a very respectable time of 2:26:34. While some may feel that running a marathon so early is premature, not to mention all but two have been top ten finishes; Yanan's resume includes a number of victories - Seoul Marathon (2002, 2007), Dailin Marathon (2004), Shanghai (2004, 2009) and Langfang (2006).
We have nothing to gauge Yanan's prior performances against. While she is far from the fastest in the field, it will be interesting to see her perform against this roster of top international competitors.