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2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon - Men's Race
by Sharon Ekstrom
photo: Sean Hartnett/Chicago Marathon
The Men's Elite
The 35th Anniversary of the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 7, 2012 saw near perfect weather conditions - 41 degrees, overcast. With those conditions and with five men capable of finishes in the 2:05 range on a course that boasts two world records in the past - the day delivered on its promise...
Records fell and Ethiopia dominated the event in one of the deepest men's fields the race had ever assembled. After years of frustration, Tsegaye Kebede was crowned the first Ethiopian champion of the Chicago Marathon, but it took 26.2 miles for him to get there.
Post-Olympic Games Fallout
Early 2012 saw competition in the marathon heat up as top athletes battled to make their national Olympic teams. Many of the best in the world - those who competed in the Olympic Marathon - could not compete just two months later at Chicago. Some on the Chicago Marathon's elite men's roster - notably Tsegaye Kebede, Feyisa Lilesa and Dathan Ritzenhein - were considered Olympic Marathon probables - proven talents in the sport - and they were able to participate in Chicago because they had not made their national teams. Many industry insiders and fans alike were still discussing how the selection may not have been by the fairest of methods (especially for the Ethiopian team), these men showed consistency in their performances on Chicago Marathon day.
Prior to the Olympic Games, when asked about Ethiopian Olympic selection for the 2012 London Marathon, Kebede, the 2008 Beijing Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon and 2010 London Marathon champion with a personal best of 2:05:18, knew he would to have run sub-2:05 to be selected for the Games. Even after not being selected, Kebede knew he would still need to achieve that time to prove himself as six of his fellow countrymen had ran sub-2:06 in the first few months of 2012; and after finishing runner-up in 2010, Kebede came to Chicago with a mission. Also returning to the field from 2010 was Feyisa Lilesa who had finished third that year behind Kebede. Lilesa felt he was capable of running sub-2:05, but he had yet to achieve that and as a result was unable to make the Ethiopian Olympic team as well. Unfazed by the Olympic snub, Lilesa indicated that he planned to run a 2:04 on race day since he was returning to the Chicago with more marathon experience.
American hopeful, Dathan Ritzenhein finished seconds out of the top 3 at the 2012 US Olympic Team Marathon Trials in January, missing his spot on the Olympic Marathon team. Ritz quickly retooled and was "track-ready" in time for the 10000m US Trials and the 2012 London 10000m Olympic team. After the disappointment of making the Olympic Marathon, but being assured a spot at the Olympics (in the 10000m), Ritzenhein planned to run the Chicago Marathon, although he focused his training solely for the shorter race leading up to the Olympics. Ritzenhein told us that despite his short time for marathon-specific training, he felt stronger and faster than ever and and was planning to run in the 2:06-2:07 range for Chicago. While dropping nearly three minutes off his personal best seemed difficult to those hearing Ritzenhein, it was evident that he was going to have a stellar performance.
Can Records Be Broken?
In 1999 the Chicago Marathon saw a world record set by Khalid Khannouchi with a 2:05:42. While subsequent world records had been set in Europe - it took even another decade for Sammy Wanjiru to beat the course record by just a second with his 2:05:41 finish in 2009. In 2011 we didn't need to wait a decade in order to see Moses Mosop beat Wanjiru's record at the 2011 race with a 2:05:37. But having been the fastest marathon in the world at one point, Chicago was falling behind its peers as even the New York City Marathon had bested Chicago's time with a 2:05:14 finish by Geoffrey Mutai.
The 2012 field was stacked with fast runners, many capable of 2:05 finishes and many half marathon specialist in their marathon debuts. In many recent years there had been one or two featured runners: Sammy Wanjiru, Ryan Hall, Moses Mosop; but for 2012 there was no pre-race favorite and just a lot of talent. Pacers planned to hit the halfway mark at 62:15, but even the best laid plans would be upset. The men started at a slow pace hitting the first 5K at 15:03, the 10K at 29:55 and 15K at 44:53 - slightly off the course record mark set by Mosop in 2011 by around ten seconds. But the twelve in the lead pack were back on track as they passed through the halfway mark in 62:54 which was identical to Mosop's half split - below the announced split, but still within striking distance of a course record. (Incidentally, Wanjiru's half split was an incredible 62:01.)
An Exciting Battle to the Finish - Part Deux
In the 2010 Chicago Marathon Kebede ran shoulder-to-shoulder against one of the strongest competitors to ever race the marathon, Sammy Wanjiru. In that 2010 race, Kebede and Wanjiru ran nearly stride for stride over the final miles and it was unclear until the final yards of the race who would win - in that year it was Wanjiru.
Kebede did not return to Chicago in 2011, instead running the New York City Marahton where he finished third; again missing the win. Having not made the Olympic team and having missed the win at Chicago in 2010, Kebede had much to prove. Kebede was running strong, and took control of the pace after the 20 mile mark, one would hope that he had enough to break the pack and finish strong. Those in tow were Lilesa and two marathon debutantes - half marathon specialist Sammy Kitwara and Tilahun Regassa.
Kebede kept charging along and Lilesa was the only one who remained up for it. Lilesa tucked behind Kebede who did the majority of the work, which was tiring after putting in an epic surge. Kebede signalled to Lilesa to come up to the front, but Lilesa refused. Kebede decided to shake him off with one mile to go, knowing that fading would cost the victory.
Kebede, who on the eve of the race doubted that he could better his previous time, twirled his hat at the fans as he crossed the finish in a victorious time of 2:04:38. While victory was sweet, he also hit his goal: "My dream was to always run a 2:04. And (today) I ran a 2:04...I am very happy. This is a great day for me." Kebede stated post-race.
Kebede is now the 9th fastest marathon of all-time and the 3rd fastest Ethiopian. Lilesa achieved his goal and finished 2:04:42 - a personal best and under 2:05. Lilesa's training partner, Regassa in his debut marathon, was third in 2:05:28. Kitwara whose training partner is Mosop (the 2011 Chicago Champion who gave him advice about the course in his debut race) was fourth in 2:05:55, also in his first marathon finish. First American to finish was Dathan Ritzenhein who ran a steady race and was 9th in 2:07:47, a two minute personal best.
Welcome Back Ritz
photo: Sean Hartnett/Chicago Marathon
American distance running has seen our nation's best take some painful steps over the past few years. It's never easy as athletes struggle with their health and the roller coaster that makes both training and performances maddening. Dathan Ritzenhein has been one of the casualties, but not anymore. After multiple surgeries Ritzenhein had little time to get back into shape and prepare for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. He may not have made the marathon team (he made the US Olympic 10000m team), but his focus on track and the mental toughness he has developed has contributed to his Chicago performance today.
In a post-race press conference, Ritzenhein with renewed confidence mentioned a conversation with his coach marathon legend Alberto Salazar about how he wanted to have a time faster than his coach [2:08:51]. In the car after the race, Salazar said: "There are conversion charts between New York and Chicago and your 2:07:47 in Chicago is exactly equal to a 2:08:51 in New York...No, I'm just kidding..."
What's next for Dathan? A spring track season running and training with two of the best 10000m guys in the world - Mo Farah and Galen Rupp - and a marathon in the Fall 2013. "Going from a 2:09 to a 2:04 in one step would have been a big undertaking. Now I've halved that and I think there is a lot more that I am capable of."
The top 10 finishers:
1. Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) 2:04:38 - $100,000 + $50,000
2. Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) 2:04:52 PR - $50,000 + $40,000
3. Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 2:05:28 - $25,000 + $40,000
4. Sammy Kitwara (KEN) 2:05:55 - $15,000 + $40,000
5. Wesley Korir (KEN) 2:06:13 PR - $10,000 + $30,000
6. Bernard Kipyego (KEN) 2:06:41 - $20,000
7. Samuel Ndungu (KEN) 2:07:26 - $10,000
8. Dadi Yami (ETH) 2:07:43 - $10,000
9. Dathan Ritzenhein (USA) 2:07:47 - $10,000 + $10,000 + $2,000
10.Shami Dawit (ETH) 2:08:39
... Other Top Americans
16.Jeffrey Eggleston (USA) 2:12:03 - $7,500 + $2,000
18. Carlos Trujillo (USA) 2:14:21 - $5,000 + $2,000