Kastor will look for her second title in Chicago.
Unlike the youth found in the men’s race, the women’s race is headlined by two of the top women’s marathoners of the past decade, both beginning to near the end of their career. Reigning world marathon majors champion Irina Mikitenko of Germany and American record holder Deena Kastor both look to extend their storied careers with a win in Chicago. Both women are are poised to take the title in Chicago, but it may be a young woman from Ethiopia that could spoil their party.
Mikitenko carries the top PR in to the race with her 2:19:19 effort from Berlin in 2008. She is the two-time-defending champion in London and has finished no worse than second at any marathon major since 2007, albeit at her debut at the distance. Although she is the reigning world marathon majors champion, she has faced disappointment as she was sidelined from the 2008 Olympics with an injury and 2009 world championships after the death of her father. Mikitenko would like nothing but to stretch her marathon majors in streak to four in Chicago.
The hopes of Chicago and the Nation rest on the shoulders of American record holder Deena Kastor. The 36-year-old icon is ready to rebound from her DNF in Beijing and reclaim her spot as one of the top marathoners in the world. Although considered a favorite based on past performances, when looking at recent history it is easy to see why Mikitenko should be considered the top runner in the field. Kastor ran a poor race at the NYC Half Marathon in August, finishing in a disspapointing 1:13:48, leaving question marks on her fitness this summer. Kastor has not finished a marathon since her win at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Boston, but she certainly looked in 2:25 shape for that race 18 months ago. Kastor has said she thinks she can run under 2:18 in Chicago, but that looks like a hefty goal and anything under 2:22 would should be considered a accomplishment.
Waiting in the wings to see if the elder-stateswomen of the race falter is the 26-year-old Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso. Erkesso ran a personal best 2:24:18 in Houston this January and 1:08:39 half marathon from Lille in September. Not only has she lowered her personal bests in both longer disciplines but he has taken some of the to prizes in American road racing this year. Erkesso has wins at the Bay to Breakers 12K and Freihofer’s 5K, not to mention strong runner-up performances at Bloomsday 12K and Bolder Boulder 10K. What Erkesso brings to the table is a nice mix of solid personal bests set in 2009 along with the clear ability to race. She could be deadly if in contact over the final 10K.
There is still a great stable of other athletes toeing the line on Sunday that could find themselves in contention for a podium place. Leading the pack will be Romnians Liliya Shobukhova and Adriana Pirtea and Russian Lidiya Grigoryeva. Shobukhova set a personal best 2:24:24 while placing third at London earlier this year, her debut at the distance. With one race under her belt it may be time for the Romanian to leap in to that upper-echelon of elite marathoning. Countrywoman Pirtea famously waved to the crowd as she was passed in the final 200 meters at the 2007 Chicago Marathon, losing to a fanatically sprinting Berhane Adere. Pirtea would like nothing more than to make up for her 2007 embarassment, although she hasn’t shown the same promise since her PR 2:28:52 at the 2008 London Marathon. Girgoryeva is the defending champion and has four top-five finishes at marathon majors since 2006. The Russian has a solid 2:25:10 personal best from the 2006 L.A. Marathon, but may need to find that form again if she wants to take her second consecutive Chicago victory.
Other than Kastor there is a solid contingent of American women set for the race on Sunday. Tera Moody finished in the top-10 at the 2007 Chicago Marathon and set a personal best 2:33:54 while placing 5th at the 2008 Olympic trials marathon in Boston. Hansons/Brooks athletes Melissa White (2:37:53 PR) and Carol Jefferson (debut) will both look to challenge for a top-5 American placing. White placed in the top-15 at Boston in 2007 and 14th at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
Here’s how I see the race playing out:
1. Irena Mikitenko—Germany
2. Liliya Shobukhova—Romania
3. Teyba Erkesso—Ethipia
4. Lidiya Grigoryeva—Russia
5. Deena Kastor—USA