Fall marathon season continues with the first major stateside race at this Sunday’s Chicago Marathon. Although two American women headliners—Jordan Hasay and Amy Cragg—announced their withdrawals in the past month, the real spectator draw on Sunday is still Galen Rupp vs. Mo Farah in the men’s race.
They’ll be up against a stellar international field that includes five sub-2:06 men as well as Yuki Kawauchi, the Boston Marathon champion. The women’s race is headlined by two-time champion Florence Kiplagat and also features Americans Laura Thweatt and Gwen Jorgensen, plus a debut from Greek-American Alexi Pappas.
Men’s Race: Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Geoffrey Kirui To Clash
There’s much more competition in the men’s elite field than American Galen Rupp and his former training partner, Brit Mo Farah, but none are half as interesting as the meeting of the two former Alberto Salazar proteges. Rupp still trains with Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project, but Farah has trained under Gary Lough—Paula Radcliffe’s husband—since switching to the roads one year ago.
Rupp is the defending champion in Chicago, but the road to win No. 2 will be much tougher with the likes of Farah, Geoffrey Kirui, and another five men with sub-2:06 credentials. It could take an American record for Rupp to capture the win in what will be a paced competition; according to NBC, he has Khalid Khannouchi’s American record of 2:05:38 on his mind.
Whether or not he breaks Khannouchi’s record, Rupp is certainly the top active American marathoner by far. He rebounded from dropping out of the Boston Marathon by clocking a three-minute personal best of 2:06:07 in Prague, the fastest U.S. men’s time this year by eight minutes. His health is somewhat in question, though, as he withdrew from a tune-up at the Copenhagen Half Marathon last month.
Olympic legend Farah made an impressive transition to the marathon with a third-place, 2:06:21 performance in London behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge. The time is a British record and, like Rupp, he’ll be doing some record-chasing as Sondre Nordstad Moen’s European record of 2:05:48 is well within reach.
Besides each other, the former NOP teammates will face their biggest challenge from Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya. The 25-year-old won the world championship and the Boston Marathon in 2017; this year, he braved the conditions to earn runner-up honors at the Boston Marathon behind Yuki Kawauchi of Japan. Kawauchi will also compete in Chicago, but will probably not be a factor for the win as he has never run under 2:08.
Beyond the big three, there’s a strong contingent of men more than capable of playing spoiler. Mosinet Geremew (2:04:00), Birhanu Legese (2:04:15) and Dickson Chumba (2:04:32) have all run well under 2:05 this year, with Geremew and Chumba picking up wins in Dubai and Tokyo, respectively. The 31-year-old Chumba is also the 2015 Chicago Marathon champion.
In his first marathon in five years, Kenneth Kipkemoi of Kenya won the 2018 Rotterdam Marathon in 2:05:44—a 12-minute personal best. Rupp’s top competitors from last year’s race are also back for another challenge: ‘17 Chicago runner-up Abel Kirui, who owns a personal best of 2:05:04, and third-placer Bernard Kipyego.
International Women: Newcomers Look To Upstage The Great Florence Kiplagat
The individual women’s champion in Chicago will likely be one of five athletes who have run between 2:19 and 2:20. Florence Kiplagat of Kenya, 31, boasts the most impressive pedigree in the distinguished field with two world titles (2009 World XC, 2010 World Half), four World Major Marathon victories (Chicago 2016, Chicago 2015, Berlin 2013, Berlin 2011), three more WMM podium finishes (London 2016, London 2014, Chicago 2014), a marathon personal best of 2:19:44 and a half marathon personal best of 65:09, which stood as the world record for three years.
That Kiplagat’s marathon PB dates back to her 2011 Berlin Marathon win isn’t as much of a concern as the fact that she has not completed a race since placing ninth at the 2017 London Marathon. She dropped out of Chicago last year with an unspecified muscular injury.
If Kiplagat is not at full strength, countrywoman Brigid Kosgei looks ready to secure her first major victory. The 24-year-old has taken runner-up honors in her last two World Major Marathons behind Tirunesh Dibaba at the 2017 Chicago Marathon and Vivian Cheruiyot at the 2018 London Marathon; both Dibaba and Cheruiyot recorded all-time great 2:18 performances on those occasions.
Other contenders for the win include Birhane Dibaba of Ethiopia, 25, who won the 2018 Tokyo Marathon in 2:19:51; and Roza Dereje, 21, who won this year’s Dubai Marathon in 2:19:17. World junior record holder Shure Demise, fourth in Tokyo this year, could also be a factor.
American Women: Gwen Jorgensen's 'Second Debut,' Laura Thweatt Returns
Even without Hasay and Cragg, two of the fastest marathoners in American history, the race for top U.S. honors should be interesting.
The results of Cragg’s training partner Gwen Jorgensen always garner attention thanks to her bold goal of racing for Olympic gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic marathon. The 32-year-old has transitioned to running full-time pretty spectacularly since winning Olympic gold in the triathlon and giving birth to her first child in the past two years.
Chicago essentially marks her second “debut” in the marathon—her first was the 2016 New York City Marathon, just a few months removed from her Rio Olympic gold medal. She ran 2:41:01 and placed 14th there; how much can she improve on a quicker course with a full year of marathon-specific training under her belt?
Laura Thweatt has endured her share of ups and downs since her impressive 2:25:38, sixth-place finish at the 2017 London Marathon. She officially returned to racing in April of this year after battling osteitis pubis. Recent results suggest she is back to her old self; the 29-year-old set a half marathon PB of 70:17 in Australia this summer, as well as road PBs of 25:52 for 8K and 32:20 for 10K this year.
Thweatt’s 2:25 PB is the sixth-fastest in the field.
Another athlete to keep an eye on is U.S. born Alexi Pappas, who represents Greece in competition. The 28-year-old filmmaker, who set the Greek national record in the 10K at the Rio Olympics in 31:36, is making her marathon debut in Chicago. She trains with American record holder Deena Kastor in Mammoth Lakes, California.