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Olympic women's champion among contenders for Chicago Marathon
By Brian Pitts | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 10/9/2008 3:38 PM

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Berhane Adere looks to do something Sunday that no woman has ever been done before. The Ethiopian is out to capture her third consecutive Bank of America Chicago Marathon title.

It won't be easy.

Adere's most formidable foe will be newly crowned Olympic women's gold medalist Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania. Tomescu-Dita also won the 2004 Chicago Marathon and will make her fifth appearance here.

The pair dueled in the 2006 Chicago Marathon with Adere coming out on top.

On the men's side, Kenyan William Kipsang is the one to beat, coming off a personal-best 2:05:49 first-place finish at the Rotterdam Marathon in April.

This is his second Chicago Marathon appearance. He finished seventh in 2005.

Could this year be the one when Daniel Njenga of Kenya finally breaks his string of hard-luck finishes and crosses the finish line first? Njenga has placed in the top three in each of the last six Chicago Marathons.

There will definitely be some dynamic story lines in place for the 1.5 million who will pack the streets of Chicago to cheer on the field of 45,000 elite and recreational runners through 26.2 miles.

As he has in 19 years as executive race director, Carey Pinkowski assembled a strong field who look to win and earn a good day's pay on a notoriously fast and flat course.

The men's and women's champions will collect $100,000 each and will have the opportunity to add to their payday with time bonuses. Top finishers also will earn points in the World Marathon Majors series.

"We have very good fields with the elite athletes," Pinkowski said. "The field is headlined by Constantina. We are really pleased that she is back. She is creating a lot of excitement."

Tomescu-Dita comes in with a lot of momentum, having taken gold at the Beijing Olympics. She won in 2:26:44, finishing 22 seconds in front of runner-up Catherine Ndereba of Kenya.

Tomescu-Dita made her intentions known before the Olympics that she planned to run in Chicago.

"I am delighted to be returning to Chicago," said Tomescu-Dita, who ran her personal best time (2:21:30) in the 2005 Chicago Marathon. "I have always felt great running there and have been fortunate to have some of the best races of my life here."

In the 2006 Chicago Marathon, Tomescu-Dita blazed out to a world-record pace at the halfway mark but faded down the stretch as Adere and Russian Galina Bogomolova closed the gap and passed her in the 22nd mile.

Tomescu-Dita learned from that experience and plans to stay with the pack.

In addition to Adere, Tomescu-Dita will be challenged by fellow Romanian Adriana Pirtea.

Chicago fans won't forget last year's exciting finish when Adere pulled out a victory over Pirtea right before the finish line. Pirtea cruised into the final stretch with a sizable lead and a few hundred meters from the finish.

She played to the crowd by pumping her arm in apparent victory, but Adhere sneaked behind her unnoticed to win by three seconds.

A surprise to the women's field could be Bezunesh Bekele of Ethiopia. She has run the second-fastest marathon of the field with a 2:23:09 personal record in her debut at the Dubai Marathon in January.

"We've always had some surprises here," Pinkowski said. "You don't have to be familiar with the course here to race well. Track athletes who have done well on the track will do well here.

"Bezunesh is a relative novice. She was selected to go to the Olympics, and for some reason she was taken off the team. She has some motivation."

Pinkowski thinks 2007 Boston Marathon champion Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia also could challenge the front-runners.

Kate O'Neill, who finished third in last year's Chicago Marathon, headlines the American women hopefuls.

Among the men, 2007 winner Patrick Ivuti will not compete due to nagging injuries. Neither will runner-up Jaouad Gharib of Morocco after he took home silver medal at the Olympics in grueling conditions.

The top contenders are all Kenyans, but their names won't be familiar. Pinkowski calls them "the next wave."

Emmanuel Mutai will put pressure on Kipsang. Mutai is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Flora London Marathon, in which he set a personal record (2:06:15). Richard Limo, who finished second to Mutai at last year's Amsterdam Marathon, is also one to watch.

"This is a good group of accomplished guys," Pinkowski said. "They come here with the intention of competing well and going fast. They have all prepared well and have done some great training. It's going to be fun to watch."

Because of the lateness of the Olympic Marathon, there won't be any noteworthy American men (such as Brian Sell) competing.

What's new?

Unseasonably hot and humid weather conditions last year forced race officials to shut down the marathon after 3 hours and divert thousands off the course. Lack of water was the main compliant. More than 300 runners needed medical attention.

Pinkowski and his team did an in-depth analysis of what happened last year, and in response they have made some important changes.

There will be 20 aid stations (up from 15 in 2007). Each station will be equipped with licensed medical professionals, and supplies of water and Gatorade have been increased.

The marathon is also introducing an innovative Event Alert System (EAS), a color-coded system to indicate course conditions ranging from green (low) to black (extreme). The EAS reading will be communicated in advance of the race via the Web site and electronic communications.

On race day, visual and audio channels will depict the current conditions in Grant Park, where the race start and finish is staged, and at each of the 20 aid stations. This is especially important because approximately 40 percent of the field consists of first-time marathoners.

As of Thursday, the level was yellow (moderate), which suggests less-than-ideal conditions for marathon running.

"Traditionally, the marathon has been cool weather event," Pinkowski said. "Last year presented some challenges. We learned a lot from the experience of the 2007 race."

The new system will likely get a good test on Sunday as warm temperatures are forecast again. According to, the predicted high is 79. The normal high is 65.

Also new this year is the title sponsor. Following its acquisition of LaSalle Bank last fall, Bank of America now puts its name on this annual event.

Bank of America brings a wealth of knowledge in sports marketing and looks to continue the race's tradition. Nike is also the new official footwear and apparel sponsor.