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Chicago marathon notebook: Elite men expecting spirited battle

10-10-10 Sammy Wanjiru defended his Bank AmericChicago Marathtitle Sunday. phoby Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

10-10-10 Sammy Wanjiru defended his Bank of America Chicago Marathon title Sunday. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

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Updated: November 8, 2012 12:01PM

There certainly are story lines among the elite men competing Sunday in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

In 2010, Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia and the late Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya put on a furious battle that many consider to be among the greatest marathon showdowns.

‘‘We were pushing to be the next world record,’’ said Kebede, who finished second. ‘‘We fight and fight.’’

The 35th Chicago Marathon looks to have the potential to be that kind of competitive battle again.

‘‘Everybody is strong,’’ said Kebede, whose personal-best time is 2 hours, 5 minutes, 18 seconds in 2009 in Fukuoka, Japan. ‘‘This is a dream competition.’’

While Kebede ranks as a slight favorite, Wesley Korir and Levy Matebo of Kenya are expected to make it a fight.

‘‘We have always had fast times born out of competition,’’ executive race director Carey Pinkowski said. ‘‘Competition brings fast times, and we have a balanced field.’’

Korir ran his personal best (2:06:15) last year in Chicago, finishing second to countryman
Moses Mosop, who set the course record (2:05:37). This spring, Korir came from a minute back to beat Matebo in the Boston Marathon.

Matebo has the fastest time in the field. He ran a personal best of 2:05:16 to finish second in 2011 in Frankfurt, Germany.

‘‘They will all be fighting here,’’ Matebo said. ‘‘All these people are so strong.’’

The weather is expected to be in the upper 30s.

‘‘I am praying for the wind and to know how to handle the cold weather,’’ Korir said.

‘‘If the wind stays down, with the cold temperatures, hopefully we will see something spectacular,’’ Pinkowski said.

Korir, who will be running his fifth consecutive Chicago Marathon, has added reason for wanting to run: He wasn’t part of the
Kenyan Olympic team.

‘‘The Olympics was the hardest thing to watch at home,’’ Korir said. ‘‘I am just excited to be here.’’

Around the 18th or 19th mile, Kebede said, the men should start sorting out who will be contending for something spectacular.

Shobukhova going for four-peat

The focus of the women’s race Sunday will be on Liliya Shobukhova of Russia, who will be going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon against a strong field.

‘‘There’s always competition. Look, there’s Ethiopia and Kenya,’’ she said, waving to nearby tables at the elite-athlete news conference Friday. ‘‘It’s always strong.’’

Shobukhova had to pull out of the London Olympics with an injury, so the natural question is about her health.

‘‘We are going to hope it is going to be 100 percent,’’ she said. ‘‘My legs weren’t doing quite what I wanted them to do [in training], but I got through the workouts.’’

The weather is expected to be in the upper 30s.

‘‘No surprise,’’ Shobukhova said. ‘‘It is cool, but we are going to run in any conditions.’’

Fields of balance

Though Chicago has produced four world records (two by women and two by men), no world-record chases are expected Sunday. Tight races, though, are expected.

Golden champion

Tatyana McFadden, the defending champion in the women’s wheelchair race, is fresh off winning three gold medals at the Paralympics.

‘‘I have always dreamed of winning gold,’’ she said.

American hope

Dathan Ritzenhein is expected to be one of the strongest U.S. runners in the field. He ran a personal best (2:09:55) at the U.S. Olympic trials but missed qualifying by one spot.

‘‘It has been different than any other marathon buildup,’’ he said.

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