The fall marathon season started on the streets of Berlin last month and now the spotlight moves on Sunday to the Windy City for the Chicago Marathon.
Dennis Kimetto of Kenya was slated to be the main attraction in Chicago. He’s the current marathon world record holder with his 2:02:57, but he withdrew from the race two weeks ago with an injury.
Still, plenty of competition remains in the men’s and women’s fields. Here are five notable athletes to follow at the 2016 Chicago Marathon:
Florence Kiplagat, Kenya
Kiplagat, 29, is the women’s defending champion who also owns the world record at the half marathon distance—1:05:09 set in 2015. Last year she broke away from the runner-up, Ethiopian Yebrugual Melese, with less than two miles to go, to win by 10 seconds in 2:23:23. Melese is also back to compete this weekend.
Kiplagat’s biggest challenger, however, could be Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia, who won Chicago in 2010 and 2012 and is also the reigning Boston Marathon champion. Should Baysa win, she would become the only woman to claim three victories at the Chicago Marathon. Her best time is 2:22:03, from the 2012 Chicago race. Kiplagat has a 2:19:44 to her name, which came with her 2011 Berlin Marathon victory, which she also won in 2013.
Dickson Chumba, Kenya
Chumba is the Chicago Marathon defending men’s champion. The 29-year-old also raced his best time of 2:04:32 on this course in 2014. The race last year was the first in two decades that did not have pacesetters for the leaders. Consequently, the field made it a slow and tactical race, benefitting Chumba. He gapped his competitors by 20 seconds with just more than two miles to go and broke the tape in 2:09:25. Chicago will not have rabbits this year either.
Chumba will be challenged by Tsegaye Kebede who once held the course record in Chicago, his PR of 2:04:38, which he ran in 2012. He famously battled Sammy Wanjiru in 2010—an all-out duel that came down to the final meters when Wanjiru found just one more surge that Kebede couldn’t answer. Since 2009, Kebede has three World Marathon Major victories, as well as three runner-up and three third-place finishes.
Luke Puskedra, U.S.A.
The Chicago Marathon put Puskedra, 26, back into the mix of America’s top distance runners when he finished fifth last year in a PR of 2:10:24. He followed that up with a fourth-place finish in February at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, making him the alternate for the Rio Olympics if one of the top three trials finishers hadn’t been able to compete.
Days after competing at the trials, Puskedra’s infant daughter, Penelope, was diagnosed with cancer. He took a break from training to be there for his family during her treatments and chemotherapy, but he resumed a normal routine by the summertime. Penelope is now in remission and doing well, the Puskedras report.
Sarah Crouch, U.S.A.
Chicago has also been good to Crouch, 27, who is lining up for the third time at the race. In 2014 she had a huge breakthrough here, running 2:32:44 and taking 12 minutes off her previous best. Crouch was supposed to race at the Olympic Trials in February but withdrew with a hip flexor injury. She trained for the 2016 Boston Marathon instead, where she finished 11th in 2:37:36.
David Walters, U.S.A.
This 61-year-old “one to watch” isn’t like the others, but his competitive drive is equally strong. Last year he won his age group by more than 20 minutes in Chicago, finishing in 2:45:26. Then the airline pilot headed to the New York City Marathon just three weeks later and dominated his age group again, winning it by 17 minutes in 2:47:27.
Walters is racing Chicago again, no doubt putting his tried-and-true training strategies to work again. And perhaps he’ll be giving Chumba a ride to the start? Last year he noticed the marathon victor on the United flight to Brussels he was piloting the day after the race. Walters gave the champion a tour of the cockpit, bumped him to first class, and conversed with him in Swahili.