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Chicago Marathon Contenders Voice Optimism For Race Weekend

Elite athletes at the press conference. Photo: Jeff Banowetz
Elite athletes at the press conference. Photo: Jeff Banowetz

Elites predict fast times despite cold weather.

At the Bank of America Chicago Marathon elite press conference, the three favorites in both the men’s and women’s fields all talked about being fit and ready for fast times. But they also said that they’d have to see what the weather was like.

The latest forecasts today predict temperatures in the mid-30s at the start of the race, with winds of 5 to 15 mph. The precipitation predicted earlier in the week now appears to be coming later in the day, if at all.

“Obviously with Mother Nature, the pendulum has swung in a different direction than last year,” said executive race director Carey Pinkowski, who has dealt with temperatures in the 80s the last two years. “I saw the latest weather report. We’ve met will all the city officials this morning, and we’ve made all the adjustments to skew toward colder weather…We’ll be prepared for Sunday.”

Pinkowski didn’t think the cold weather would slow down the elite runners.

“Athletes perform well in cold weather,” he says. “Our guys have run really fast in cold weather and hopefully we’ll stay in that tradition.”

One runner eager to prove Pinkowski correct was Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya, the favorite in the men’s field. This will be the first American race for the 22-year-old phenom who has trained mostly in Japan the last half dozen year. In fact, this was his first trip to the United States.

“Thank you for the invitation to come here. It’s my first time in America, my first time in Chicago, and my first chance to see where my guy, Obama, comes from,” he said with a smile. He later joked that Obama’s home was only “a 10K away.”

Wanjiru has reason to be relaxed. He’s raced four marathons and won three of them, including the Olympic Marathon in Beijing. The only race he didn’t win, the London Marathon in 2008, he finished second in 2:05:24. He set his PR of 2:05:10 with a victory at London this spring.

He thought he could go even faster in Chicago.

“I think I can go 2:04, depending on the weather,” he said.

Wanjiru will most likely get his stiffest competition from Vincent Kipruto of Kenya, who won the Paris Marathon this spring in 2:05:47, and Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco, who has finished second in both New York and London. Both runners thought they were in good shape and could give Wanjiru a battle.

“It will depend on the weather, but I think we can all go fast on Sunday,” Kipruto said.On the women’s side, the biggest story is American Deena Kastor, who will be running her first marathon since the Beijing Olympics, where she broke her foot three miles into the race.

She said that while she hasn’t had a world-class race since then, she still feels like she’s prepared to run fast this year.

“I definitely feel like I’ve put together some workouts that suggest that I’m able to run fast,” she says. “The past five weeks of my training have proved that I’m getting ready at the right time.”

Kastor, the bronze medalist in Athens in 2004, won the Chicago Marathon in 2005. She set her PR of 2:19:36 in London a year later.

Her biggest competition is likely Irina Mikitenko of Germany, who won the London Marathon the last two years and has run a PR of 2:19:19 at the Berlin Marathon in 2008. A death in her family kept her from running in the world championships this year, but she believes she’s back to being in sub-2:20 shape.

“Training is getting better and better, but we’ll have to see on Sunday if I can run a good race,” she said through a translator. The injury appears to be healed, and it’s just a matter of whether or not she’s been able to get back to her pre-injury condition.

Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia, won the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last year and is back to defend her title. While her PR is “only 2:25,” she believes that she can run with anyone in the field.

“I believe that I can run a fast marathon,” she said through a translator. “There have often been things like the weather or competition that’s kept me from running a faster time, but I think I can run (with the leaders).”