Sean Hartnett on Assignment for Track & Field News
Following a summer of phenomenal distance running, the fall marathon season has continued to redefine standards for endurance events. The Chicago Marathon was no exception providing all too familiar results -- a near world record 2:07:10 by Moroccan Khalid Khannouchi, and another amazing display of Kenyan depth with four more 2:08 clockings.
Khannouchi's sparkling debut is the fastest marathon ever run in North American, and all told Chicago '97 probably edges ahead of Boston '94 and Chicago '85 as the fastest and deepest marathon ever contested on US soil.
The race also provided a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered American marathon corps. While New Balances's Million Dollar bounty for a 'US Best' remains unclaimed, Jerry Lawson gave it a determined run and emphatically demonstrated that last year was no fluke as he took sole possession of the American Record with a 2:09:35. Although Todd Williams' long awaited 2:11:17 debut run never threatened Bob Kempainen's record, he emerged from the race firmly committed to the marathon.
Chicago had all the crucial ingredients for fast marathoning; a flat well shaded course, a deep field, a phalanx of steady paced rabbits, and near perfect mid-40° weather.
Race Director Carey Pinkowski brought in five pacesetters to tow the 15 man lead pack at a 2:08 clip while a second pack set off at five minute miles. Teddy Mitchell and Martin Pitayo did much of the early work hitting 5 miles in 24:30, and 10 in 49:02. Jeff Jacobs took over the yoke reaching half way in 1:04:06, and hanging on through 16 miles (1:16:20).
Along for the brisk jaunt were defending champ Paul Evans of Great Britain and talented country mate Jon Brown, Kenyans Patrick Muturi, Gilbert Rutto, Philip Chirchir, Joseph Kamau, Fred Kiprop and Peter Ndirangu, Silvio Guerra of Ecuador, Eder Moreno Fialho of Brazil, Lawson, and Khannouchi who has owned the US road circuit this year but was untested beyond a half-marathon.
Williams was content to run in the second pack with fellow Americans Terry Mahon, Mark Plaatjes, Scott Larson and Dan Mayer, Brit Gary Staines and Mexican Carlos Bautista. This pack hit 5 miles in 24:49, but Williams set off on his own after 9 miles, noting "I had to get off that slower pace, I dropped it down to 4:55s and ran 49:02 for the ten miles between 9 and 19."
Up front sans rabbits, the real racing began. Muturi and Lawson moved to the front for a 17th mile in 4:50 that dropped Kamau. A mile later Ndirangu, who had earlier been scolded for moving ahead of the pacers, initiated the first break, bolting through a pair of 4:43 miles to reach 20 in 1:37:30. One of the crew of Nike Kenyans training in Boulder under the direction of Dieter Hogen, Ndirangu noted "I was concerned with Khalid's kick and I wanted to make it a fast time."
Only Kiprop and Khannouchi were able to cover the move as the pack slipped 25 seconds back at 20 miles. For his part, Khannouchi was content to bide his time. "I felt great at 18 miles," recalled the 26 year old Moroccan, "I had no concern with their surges at that time, I still had 8 miles to go."
The lead trio eased back to 4:49 pace for the next three miles before Khannouchi blew the race open with a 4:38 mile. "At 23 miles I just felt good, so I decided to run by myself" understated Khannouchi. Breezing home with 4:45 and 4:46 miles, Khannouchi's 2:07:10 knocked 3 ticks off Steve Jones' CR (and former WR) set on a slightly different loop around the Loop. While rabbits clearly set the table for fast times, Khannouchi covered the last 10 miles in an incredible 47:50, and his WR debut ranks as the fourth fastest time ever run.
Kiprop (2:08:19) led the Kenyan charge, with Ndirangu fading to 2:08:46, finishing just ahead of Chirchir (2:08:56) and Muturi (2:08:59). Best known as tracksters and harriers, the Kenyans now have fully embraced the marathon as evident in the fact that these times rate only =6th, 10th, 11th and 12th on the 1997 Kenyan depth chart.
Evans regained his stride in the last miles and closed on the Kenyans to finish in 2:09:20, 15 seconds ahead of Lawson who dashed past Guerra and Brown in the final two miles. "I couldn't go with the break at 18 miles," noted Lawson, "I had a three mile lull, then after 21 I started to roll again."
Williams closed within 45 seconds of Lawson at 23 miles, but slowed to 5:40 pace in the last mile. Nonetheless, his 2:11:17 ranks as the second fastest American debut, trailing only Alberto Salazar's 2:09:41.
In contrast to the men, the women's race was one of attrition and few PRs. Britain's Marion Sutton separated herself from the pack in the 18th mile and survived a nose bleed at 20 miles to successful defend her title in a 2:29:03 PR. Anne Marie Lauck, the top-ranked American in 1996, was never a factor in the race and was one of many of the race's casualties. Joan Benoit Samuelson returned to Chicago where she set her AR and although she had to walk off mid-race calf cramps, she still managed 2:46:34, good for second place in the Master's competition.
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