Ethiopian Baysa Prevails in Close Women's Finish
By Chris Lotsbom
(07-Oct) -- In a brilliant show of front running at its best, Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede took the top spot at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon earlier today, finishing in a course record time of 2:04:38. Two years after placing an agonizing second, Kebede emerged victorious after a battle with compatriot Feyisa Lilesa.
"This my goal!" exclaimed a joyous Kebede in an interview with local television affiliate NBC 5.
Sitting behind designated pace setters through the half-marathon in 1:02:54, Kebede looked calm and relaxed as part of a 15-man pack, which included Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir, marathon debutant Tilahun Regassa, and Lilesa.
Running in his usual style --his arms very close to his chest, head and body bent slightly forward-- Kebede took over the leading duties shortly after the pacers had stepped off. That's when the 5'2" (158cm) Kebede announced to the pack that it was time to go.
In the nine-kilometer stretch from halfway to the 30 kilometer mark, Kebede kept his foot on the gas pedal, hammering mile after mile in the 4:35-4:45 range. One by one the pack dwindled down; amongst the fallen included Korir, last year's runner-up.
After a 4:33 mile, it was down to four at 35 kilometers: the front running Kebede, Regassa, Kenyan Sammy Kitwara, and Lilesa hanging onto his coattails.
Judging by his appearance, it looked as if Regassa would be the next to drop, an ever-growing grimace etched across his face. But at 22 miles, the debutante marathoner injected a burst of speed, testing those around him. Faltering was Kitwara, who immediately fell off the back.
Minutes later, after a brief pause and relaxation of pace, Regassa turned it on once again. But this time, instead of breaking his competitors, as television commentator Toni Reavis put it ever so bluntly, "he broke himself!"
The move left only Kebede and Lilesa, running well ahead of Moses Mosop's 2:05:37 course record pace. Both would run together through 40 kilometers, bringing back memories of the 2010 Chicago Marathon contest, when Kebede battled the late Sammy Wanjiru stride for stride through the latter stages.
Learning from his 2010 experience, Kebede was not going to allow himself to be broken, especially after he had dictated the pace for so long. Passing the one mile to go mark, Kebede began to accelerate again, his arms --still ever so close to his puffed out chest-- pumping harder than before.
Turning onto Roosevelt Road, Kebede's lead on Lilesa only grew, extending into a comfortable margin as he turned onto the final stretch. Taking off his headband and twirling it in celebration, Kebede could not contain his joy approaching the tape, which he would break in 2:04:38, a new course record by 59 seconds
"I could not run two years ago with Wanjiru," he told NBC 5, out of breath not from running but from excitement. "But this year, this is my goal!"
Kebede's win breaks a nine-year streak of Kenyan victories.
"After half, I push, I push, I push, and then I run 2:04," he said smiling. "For me it's my first time. Every time my dream to run 2:04. Today, thanks to God, I run it."
Lilesa crossed second in 2:04:52, Regassa third --still with a lasting grimace on his face-- in 2:05:27.
Finishing as the first American was Dathan Ritzenhein, ninth overall in 2:07:47. Splitting halfway in 1:03:25, the 29-year-old gained eight spots in the second half, and with his new personal best, becomes the third fastest American marathoner of all time.
"I'm really happy; it was a huge step in the right direction for me," Ritzenhein told Flotrack.org in his post-race interview. He continued: "It's a great way to end the year. It's an awesome feeling compared to 10 months ago."
In the women's race, Atsede Baysa prevailed over veteran Rita Jeptoo after an exciting duel of their own.
Similar to what had played out in the men's race, the women came through midway in a pack of nine 1:11:15. With three-time Bank of America Chicago Marathon champion Liliya Shobukhova in the mix, all seemed content to let the pace dawdle early.
But by 30 kilometers, Shobukhova had begun to fade, five seconds behind leader Lucy Kabuu. Joined by Ethiopia's Atsede Baysa, the 34-year-old Russian was struggling to stay within distance of the front group, which included veteran marathoner Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, the 2006 Boston Marathon champion.
With Shobukhova ten seconds behind at 35 kilometers, the question was posed: could the 2010-2011 World Marathon Majors series champion catch the leaders? Baysa, who was running alongside her just five kilometers before, had done just that, now sharing the lead with Kabuu. But could Shobukhova?
The answer would be no. Kabuu, Baysa, and Jeptoo would run together through 40 kilometers well ahead of the chasing Russian, who had fallen to more than 40 seconds behind.
With a mile to go there would only be two at the front, as Kabuu dropped while Jeptoo and Baysa increased their pace. Baysa, who finished eighth at the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon earlier this year, would lead ever so slightly onto Columbus Drive, with the finish less than a quarter mile ahead.
But Jeptoo, wouldn't give up. Looking back every other step she took, Baysa clearly was worried that her Kenyan foe may sprint hard in the final meters to the line. But a burst from Jeptoo never came.
Crossing the line at nearly the same moment, Jeptoo raised her arms in celebration while Baysa, a half step ahead, broke the tape in front in 2:22:03.
"I am very happy because winning was a big dream for me," said the Ethiopian champion through a translator. "No words can explain."
For the first time in the race's 35-year history, Ethiopia swept both the men's and women's titles.
"Winning the same race, the same country, two races for Ethiopia, we are very happy. It means a lot for us," said Baysa.
Rounding out the top three was Kabuu in 2:22:41, while Shobukhova finished a distant fourth in 2:22:59.
Eight Americans finished in the top fifteen, led by Renee Metivier Baillie who made her debut in 2:27:17.