On October 7, thousands of runners from all 50 states and more than 100 countries will take to the streets of the Windy City for the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. At the front of the race will be some of the world’s top male and female marathon contenders—perhaps a small preview of what’s to come in 2020, when all eyes are on the Tokyo Olympics. Who will win, who will podium and who’s story will cause a buzz on race day? Let’s break it down.
The Women’s Field
American Amy Cragg’s* career over just the last two years has been tremendous to watch. She won the Olympic Trials Marathon in 2016, then finished third last year at the world championships. And perhaps foreshadowing what’s on tap for the Games, Cragg clocked a massive PR at the Tokyo Marathon in February, finishing third in 2:21:42, the fifth-fastest U.S. time ever. Translation: do not count her out for the podium on October 7.
The top-three elite women toeing the line in Chicago all own sub-2:20 PRs, including two-time champion Florence Kiplagat from Kenya, who was a late add following Hasay’s withdrawal**. Ethiopians Roza Dereje and Birhane Dibaba are also powerhouses to be reckoned with. Dereje destroyed the course record, and her PR, by three minutes at the Dubai Marathon earlier this year, becoming the eighth-fastest woman in history. Chicago will be her first world marathon major. Dibaba is two-time podium finisher here, placing third in 2014 and 2015. She finished behind Cragg at both the world championships last year and Tokyo marathon earlier this year.
Other noteworthy names include Brigid Kosgei from Kenya and Shure Demise from Ethiopia, whose PRs flirt with the 2:20 mark. Kosgei finished second here last year, won the Honolulu Marathon nine weeks later, then finished second at the London Marathon with a new PR of 2:20:13.
Others to watch: Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen joined Cragg at the Bowerman Track Club last year to focus on the marathon. Her potential in the 26.2-distance is yet to be seen, so Chicago will be a great preview into her next big goal: to win gold in the Olympic marathon. Alexi Pappas, who hold dual citizenship in the U.S. and Greece, will be making her debut in Chicago. She’s no stranger to the city, winning two Shamrock Shuffle 8K races in 2014 and 2015. Sarah Crouch and Laura Thweatt also round out the top-3 Americans at this year’s race and can be expected to finish in the top 10.
Top-4 Prediction: Brigid Kosgei, Birhane Dibaba, Amy Cragg, Florence Kiplagat
*Editor’s Note: As of Tuesday, September 25, Amy Cragg has also withdrawn from the marathon.
**Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest American female marathon ever, announced her withdrawl from the marathon on Sept. 19, citing an ongoing injury. Hasay finished in 2:20:57 last year at Chicago, just six months after her dazzling marathon debut at Boston, the fastest first marathon ever by an American woman. Based on PR alone, Hasay was the top American contender for the podium, if not the win, at this year’s race.
The Men’s Field
The men’s field is just as stacked as the women’s field, with three sub-2:05 PRs at the top of the list. Everyone will be curious how defending champion Galen Rupp fares after ending American men’s drought last year with his win. He then raised eyebrows after winning this year’s Prague Marathon in 2:06:07, a PR and second-fastest American time, just three weeks after DNF’ing at the Boston Marathon.
A rivalry worth getting worked up over will be Mo Farah, who will run his third marathon, against Rupp. The two runners are known competitors on the track, and Rupp has never beaten Farah there nor on the roads. However, Rupp’s PR edges out Farah’s by seconds, so time—literally—will tell who comes out on top in Chicago. Rupp will also face Kenyan and 2017 Boston Marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui, after finishing runner-up to him last year in Boston.
And no one can underestimate Yuki Kawauchi, who had a smashing Boston Marathon in April, winning the race against severe weather. He leads a stellar field of Japanese runners on the elite list; out of the six racing Chicago, five hold sub-2:15 PRs.
Adding to the deep international field is Kenyan Dickson Chumba, a two-time Chicago Marathon champion in 2014 and 2015, narrowly missing a third win in 2016, when he finished three seconds behind fellow countryman Abel Kirui. Kirui and Chumba will face off again this year, bringing two of the top-four fastest times to the international elite field.
Fellow countryman Kenneth Kipkemoi ran a 2:05:44 at this year’s Rotterdam Marathon, adding to his already impressive half-marathon resume. He owns the 25th fastest time in history for 13.1 miles and represented Kenya in the half and 10,000 meters at the world championships.
From Ethiopia, 26-year-old Mosinet Geremew won the Dubai Marathon earlier this year, breaking the course record and setting a personal best of 2:04:00. He’s also run a handful of sub-60-minute half marathons. Birhanu Legese, also from Ethiopia, made his marathon debut at Dubai and finished 15 seconds behind Geremew. At 24 years old, Legese is the youngest elite headed to Chicago behind Geremew. Both men bring youth, fresher legs and a lot of speed to an already famously-fast course and will be a dual to watch.
Others to watch: Elkanah Kibet, who finished top-10 twice in Chicago and at Boston this year when many elites called it quits due to extreme weather. Tyler McCandless and Aaron Braun round out the top-4 Americans with personal bests of 2:12:28 and 2:12:54. All three men could have tremendous days in Chicago and will definitely make the race to a top-10 finish against a stacked field very interesting.
Top-4 Prediction: Birhanu Legese, Mosinet Geremew, Galen Rupp, Dickson Chumba