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Wanjiru, Shobukhova Repeat At Chicago Marathon

Jason Hartmann, Desiree Davila top Americans on a warm day in the Windy City.

Jason Hartmann, Desiree Davila top Americans on a warm day in the Windy City.

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Reigning Olympic Marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya won an old-fashioned street fight in Chicago on Sunday morning, pummeling his key rival Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia in the final 250-meter sprint to successfully defend his Bank of America Chicago Marathon title in 2:06:24 and all but lock-up the 2009/2010 World Marathon Majors crown worth $500,000.

Liliya Shobukhova of Russia also won the women’s race here for the second consecutive year, coming from behind to claim victory in 2:20:25, guaranting her the WMM title, her first.

Wanjiru, who had dropped out of the Virgin London Marathon last April with a knee injury, showed the form–and racing savvy–which brought him the Olympic title in Beijing in similarly warm and sunny 73° conditions.  Running in an 11-man lead pack at the halfway mark (1:02:36), Wanjiru stayed near the front of the group on the right side and out of trouble, content to follow the pacemaking of Kenyans Edward Muge, Peter Kirui and Shadrack Kosgei.  Kebede remained tucked in the pack with the other contenders, which included Vincent Kipruto, Wesley Korir, Laban Moiben and Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot of Kenya, and Deriba Merga and Feyisa Lelisa of Ethiopia.  The warm weather wasn’t bothering Wanjiru.

“This weather is my favorite weather,” Wanjiru said in his first post-race interview on local television, comparing today’s conditions with those at the Beijing Olympics.

But Wanjiru wasn’t just thinking about the Beijing weather, but also about the vicious series of surges he used in the Chinese capital to wound his rivals before going on to run an Olympic record of 2:06:32.

“I used my technique I used in the Olympics,” he explained after Sunday’s race.

But it was the tiny Kebede, the Virgin London Marathon champion, who threw the first punch.  After Kosgei, the last pacemaker, dropped out past 30K (1:29:36), Merga stepped off the course minutes later, and Cheruiyot, who ended up finishing sixth, fell hopelessly back.  Kebede saw his chance and surged, spurting through the 20th mile in 4:28.

“Kebede is just taking a baseball bat to these guys,” observed television commentator Toni Reavis from the lead men’s motorcycle.

In a matter of seconds, only Wanjiru, Kebede and the 20 year-old Lelisa remained in contention.  That set the stage for a riveting duel between Kebede and Wanjiru.  A 4:47 mile by Kebede put Lelisa out of the picture for victory, leaving the two big guns–tied in the World Marathon Majors standings with 50 points each–to fight for the title and the $500,000 series win.  For every surge Kebede tried, Wanjiru was able to cover and strike back.

“He get recovery, he come again,” Kebede, the 2008 Olympic Marathon bronze medallist, explained in English.  “He get recovery, he come again.”

Wanjiru saved his best surge for last.  After making the left hand turn for the final 250 meters to the finish line on Columbus drive, the Kenyan exploded with the kick of a miler, breaking into a full sprint.  The exhausted Kebede had no response, leaving Wanjiru time to make a series of hand gestures to the crowd, capped by holding up two fingers to signify his second victory here.

“I like hot weather,” Wanjiru said of the warm conditions.  “Let me say, today was my day.  I’m very happy.  My shape is coming back.”

Kebede crossed second in 2:06:43, his eighth consecutive podium finish in a marathon since winning Paris back in 2008.  He was philosophical about his loss.

“I tried my best,” Kebede said after a long pause when asked if he was disappointed.  “Chance, you know.  I’m happy.  It is not the final.  I will run again.  I am happy to get second.  No problem.”

Lelisa was rewarded with a third place finish in 2:08:10, followed by Los Angeles Marathon champion Wesley Korir (2:08:44), and Kipruto (2:09:08) rounding out the top 5. The top American was Jason Hartmann in 8th place, running a personal best 2:11:06. Mike Sayenko of Seattle finished tenth overall in a personal best 2:14:27.

Wanjiru now has 75 points in the 2009/2010 WMM points chase to Kebede’s 65.  Kebede is not mathematically eliminated from winning the title, but he would have to rally back and compete at the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 7, and win the race in order to surpass Wanjiru in the standings.  That possibility is remote, and Wanjiru’s second consecutive $500,000 WMM check is nearly assured.

For Shobukhova, the race had a more subtle kind of drama.  She held back in the first half while Ethiopians Atsede Baysa, Mamitu Daska and Askale Tafa Magarsa went through halfway in 1:09:45.  Shobukhova was running confidently 15 seconds back, feeling strongly that they would come back to her.  It’s easier to be the hunter than the hunted.

“During the race I was controlling the people in front of me,” Shobukhova said through a translator.  “It wasn’t a surprise that they came back to me.”

Just past the 21-mile mark, Shobukhova came along side the slowing Baysa, the only one of the three Ethiopians still in contention for victory.  The tall Russian, who runs with strikingly straight posture, eased past Baysa, and cruised home for a Russian record of 2:20:25.  The victory gave the reigning Virgin London Marathon champion an insurmountable 85 points in the WMM points chase guaranteeing her a $500,000 payday when the series ends in November in New York.

“When I come into the race, I never think about money,” Shobukhova told reporters.  “I think about what I have to do, my training plan my strategy to win the race.  At this point, I haven’t thought about the money.”

She later said that she and husband/coach Igor Shobukhov, would build a hotel in their hometown.

Baysa survived the remainder of the second half to finish second in 2:23:40.  She was followed by Mariya Konovalova of Russia who set a personal best 2:23:50 to take third.  American Desiree Davila set a one-minute personal best to finish fourth in 2:26:20, becoming the fourth-fastest American ever at the marathon distance.

“I think I got everything out of it today,” said Davila, who had not run a marathon in over a year and passed on a chance to run the USA Women’s Marathon Championship in New York next month.  “I felt pretty taxed by the end.”

Both Wanjiru and Shobukhova earned $75,000 in prize money–the lowest of the three WMM events in the United States–and both athletes earned $40,000 time bonuses.