Hall ready for record tilt

The last time the Bank of America Chicago Marathon took place, it staged the fastest women’s marathon performance ever seen.

Brigid Kosgei’s mark of 2:14:04 stunned onlookers as she tore up Paula Radcliffe’s long-standing record, underlining the course’s potential for frighteningly fast times.

This year in the open divisions of both the men’s and women’s races, the much-changed fields have focused the minds of the homegrown athletes as to what they might achieve on Sunday.

The USA’s Sara Hall pulled off a sensational run in the rain of London’s elite only event in 2020 to storm her way to second place, overtaking a gaggle of runners in the final miles to claim an impressive podium spot.

She arrives in the Windy City as the latest American woman to set her sights on Deena Kastor’s US record, set on the same London streets as Hall’s breakthrough Majors showing a year ago.

“The record has been a target for me,” said Hall. “Just in training to have that target to chase – you want to see your full potential in the sport. So that's been something that's helped pull that out of me.

“It's preparing me to be more competitive in front of these races. And that's what I'm probably even more excited about – getting back on the podium and trying to win one of these one of these days. I definitely am looking to run that record at some point.

“Maybe it's Sunday. Maybe it's the next one, but we'll see. But it's definitely been fun pursuing it. Deena set that bar really high. It's been sitting around for a long time. So we'll see if we can put it together.”

Sara Hall, second from the right, is aiming for a new national record on Sunday

To win, Hall will have to beat the reigning world champion. Ruth Chepngetich was in blistering form at the Istanbul Half Marathon earlier this year where she set a new world record for 13.1 miles, but she struggled in the Olympic marathon and dropped out.

“I was in good shape,” she said. “But in two to three weeks (before the race), I was struck by injury and that is why I dropped out. I went back to Kenya and tried to heal my injury, and it was okay. For now, my shape is okay. On Sunday, I will do my best and I hope on Sunday it will be a nice race.”

In the men’s race, Galen Rupp – eighth in the Olympic Marathon only 62 days ago – would love to reclaim the top spot in Chicago he won in 2017. The withdrawal of Getaneh Molla, who ran 2:03:34 in Dubai in 2019, will certainly help Rupp’s cause, but the late addition of former Chicago and Tokyo champion Dickson Chumba should quell any complacency among American fans’ hopes.

“I knew I was going to come here before the Olympics,” Rupp explained. “Mike (Smith) and I sat down and before we committed, we really talked about what are the pros and cons of doing this, you know, is this a smart thing to do or do you have to make adjustments? And we came up with a really good plan. I took a week pretty easy right after the Olympics. I just
ran super slow.

“It's actually been a really good build-up for Chicago. So, I'm pumped to be racing again on Sunday and especially having a little disappointment over racing in the Olympics. I was really excited to get back at it and really thankful to have the opportunity to compete again so quickly.”

The elite wheelchair races will both provide yet more interest for the local crowd.

Tatyana McFadden, the totemic figure from the nearby University of Illinois program, arrives at a race she has taken out on eight occasions having earned second in Berlin and third in London on the two previous weekends.

The convincing winner of both of those races, AbbottWMM Series XIII leader Manuela Schär, has skipped Chicago to focus on the Boston Marathon on Monday, leaving the door ajar for McFadden to return to winning ways as she continues her odyssey through all five Majors in seven weeks.

“It’s the first time in history that we will ever have a schedule like this due to COVID,” said McFadden.

“I've been really blessed to have such a good team along the way. I am looking forward to racing again - it’s been quite some time - about seven hundred eighty days since the last Chicago.”

L-R: Amanda McGrory, Tatyana McFadden, Daniel Romanchuk & Marcel Hug

Her compatriot and fellow Illini, Daniel Romanchuk has a major fight on his hands in every sense. The youngster has seen veteran Marcel Hug eat into his lead in the Series standings after knocking off the Paralympic Marathon, Berlin and London to narrow the gap to seven points.

With 25 for a win and eight bonus points up for grabs, neither man will want to give an inch on a course Romanchuk sealed his first Majors win on back in 2018.

Hug certainly had the upper hand in London, timing his attack on halfway to perfection to create a gap and go on to shatter the London course record. It remains to be seen how each athlete approaches the race knowing they are both planning to be on the start line for Boston the following day.

“I’m nervous somewhat, but not really,” said Romanchuk. “I think I've got a good plan in place. As far as, you know, the transition goes, my mom is here. My dad's actually going to be in Boston with another chair. So, if anything goes wrong in transit, I'll have a chair there.”

As with each of the Majors making its return in this unique season, the sight of the thousands of runners pouring down the streets once again behind these elite athletes is what will make the day so special in Chicago.

Among them will be Great Britain’s former No.1 marathon runner Aly Dixon, who will achieve a long-standing ambition to become an Abbott World Marathon Majors Six Star Finisher when she crosses the line in Grant Park.

A day for the history books beckons for everyone about to bring Marathon Sunday back to the shores of Lake Michigan.