Rita Jeptoo of Kenya after winning the 2013 Chicago Marathon (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Chicago, USA

Jeptoo, Bekele and Kipchoge head 2014 Chicago Marathon elite fields

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon’s 2014 elite competition will feature five men with personal bests of 2:05 or faster, and four women with the potential to break the tape on Columbus Drive under 2:20, organisers of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race announced on Thursday (4).

Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele (best of 2:05:04) and Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge (2:04:05) will rekindle their historic track rivalry on the road as both men chase records.

Bekele and Kipchoge began their competition on the start line more than a decade ago at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in the 5000m and while the two men have gone head-to-head more than a dozen times in their careers, their biggest challenge on race day will be the course record, 2:03:45, set last year by Kenya's Dennis Kimetto.

Only five men in history have broken 2:04 on record-eligible courses. Bekele transitioned to the marathon this year after an illustrious track and cross-country career that produced four world records.

Similar to Bekele, Kipchoge made the transition from the track to the roads in 2012, and won his marathon debut at the 2013 Hamburg Marathon in a course record 2:05:30. He started his 2014 campaign with a win at the Rotterdam Marathon, clocking an even 2:05:00 despite windy conditions and uneven pacing.

"I am looking forward to coming to Chicago and competing with Kenenisa on the road this time," said Kipchoge. "I chose Chicago because it has a fast course and I want to better my personal best. It's also one of the best races in the world,” said Kipchoge.

Far from a two-person race, the 2014 field includes several men with the raw talent and right speed to join the quest for a course record.

Kenya's Sammy Kitwara returns to Chicago for a third time and brings something unique to this year's field: experience on Chicago's famously fast and flat course.

Kitwara finished fourth in his Chicago, and marathon, debut in 2012 when he ran 2:05:54.

His speed over the half marathon distance – he holds the fifth fastest men's time in history with 58:48 – ranks him high among the list of potential winners. Kenya's Bernard Koech does not have the longest resume in the field, but he has the second-fastest marathon best of 2:04:53, from his marathon debut in Dubai in 2013.

Like Kitwara, Koech has incredible half marathon speed. At the 2013 Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half Marathon, he produced the fastest half marathon time run on US soil, beating Kipchoge and running 58:41.

Koji Kobayashi leads a strong contingent of Japanese runners. He started his year with a personal best at the Tokyo Marathon, finishing ninth in 2:08:51.

Ecuador's Bayron Piedra rounds out the international field. The two-time Pan-American Games silver medallist has little experience over long distances, but enough speed over 5000m and 10,000m to clock a fast time. The US charge will be led by former track star-turned-distance runner Bobby Curtis, who has a best of 2:13:24.

Jeptoo looking for sub-2:20 hat trick

In the women's race, Kenya’s 2013 Chicago champion Rita Jeptoo (best of 2:18:57) will face her compatriots Kenya's Florence Kiplagat (2:19:44) and Jemima Sumgong (2:20:48), as well as a relative newcomer, Ethiopia's Birhane Dibaba (2:22:30).

Jeptoo ran her first career sub-2:20 in last year's race, the fifth fastest time in Chicago Marathon history, and she returns after smashing the Boston Marathon course record in April, running 2:18:57.

If Jeptoo cracks the 2:20 barrier for a third time, she will become just the third woman in history to run under 2:20 three times in a career.

Sumgong, the 2013 Rotterdam Marathon champion, stayed with Jeptoo through to 35km during last year's duel and came home with a second-place finish and a personal best of 2:20:48.

Out to prevent a repeat one-two finish by Jeptoo and Sumgong is half marathon world record-holder Kiplagat, the 2011 and 2013 Berlin Marathon champion. Kiplagat pulled out of the 2012 Chicago Marathon with an injury, and she has made no secret of coming to Chicago this autumn to improve her 2:19:44 personal best from the 2011 Berlin Marathon.

"It is no retreat and no surrender for me; it's a do-or-die game‎ and I will give all my best to succeed and make the 12th of October a great day!" commented Kiplagat.

Dibaba, 20, stole the show at the 2014 Suja Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half Marathon when she outsprinted Jeptoo with 50 metres to go, winning in 1:09:34. Although Dibaba is the youngest competitor in the elite field, she has run six marathons. She ran her first marathon at age 18, and she has finished her past three marathons in 2:23 or faster.

Amy Hastings leads a talented field of US women. The ninth fastest US woman over the marathon distance and the fifth fastest over 10,000m, Hastings made her marathon debut in 2011 in convincing fashion, finishing second in the Los Angeles Marathon in 2:27:03.

Joining Hastings will be top US finisher at the 2013 Chicago Marathon, Clara Santucci (2:29:54). London 2012 Olympic Games participant Lisa Uhl, the seventh-fastest US woman over 10,000m, will also make her marathon debut.

"This year's field is built for speed and record-breaking performances," said Bank of America Chicago Marathon executive race director Carey Pinkowski. "We have big expectations due to this group of men and women who know how to race, dig deep and win."

Organisers for the IAAF