Friday October 9th, 2015

This year’s Chicago Marathon should feature strong international competition, as a field deep with contenders from East Africa—and with few American standouts—will battle over the 26.2-mile distance in the second World Marathon Major of the fall.

Last year's race was won in 2:04:11 by Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge. 

The race is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. ET (7:30 a.m. CT).

Here is a look at the elite men’s field:

Favorite: Sammy Kitwara, Kenya (Personal best: 2:04:28)

With the recent withdrawals of Tsegaye Kebede (illness) and 2015 Tokyo Marathon champion Ndeshaw Negesse, both of Ethiopia, Kitwara is the clear favorite to take the crown in Chicago and earn his first World Marathon Majors victory. Kitwara was sixth in this April’s loaded London Marathon, where he ran 2:07:43. In his most recent race to prepare for Chicago, Kitwara showed he is in good shape with a 1:00:25 victory at the Luanda Half-Marathon in Angola.

Kitwara has been chipping away at the podium in Chicago with a fourth-place finish in 2012, third in 2013 and second last year. With such stars as world record holder Dennis Kimetto and Berlin and London Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge not in attendance, Kitwara may finally find himself atop the podium.

The Contender: Dickson Chumba, Kenya (2:04:32)

Last year was a strong campaign for Chumba, as he won the Tokyo Marathon in 2:05:42 and then lowered his personal best to 2:04:32 with a third-place finish in Chicago. The start to 2015 was not as great, with a third in Tokyo, but that does not mean it was a disappointment, as Chumba still clocked a 2:06:34 in Japan. Without pacemakers, it could take a time like 2:06 to win Sunday’s race. In his last unpaced Major, at Boston in 2013, Chumba ran only 2:14:08 for seventh place.

Honorable mention: Wesley Korir, Kenya (2:06:13)

After a somewhat disappointing 2013, with two marathons over 2:10, Korir rebounded to kick off 2014 with a fourth-place 2:09:17 at the Ottowa Marathon and then finished eighth in Chicago in 2:11:09. He has run 2:10:38 or faster in Chicago four times and his success in Boston shows that he can handle a race without pacers.

Streak Breaker: Abel Kuma, Ethiopia (2:05:56)

Kuma looks to become just the second Ethiopian man to win the Chicago Marathon and the first since Kebede won in 2012. Kuma ran 2:06:47 to win April’s ABN AMRO Rotterdam Marathon. Most recently, he finished third at the Mattoni Ceské Budejovice half-marathon in the Czech Republic, running 1:04:17.

Joan Benoit Samuelson reflects on her 1985 Chicago Marathon win

How about the Americans?

This year’s U.S. presence at Chicago is sparse compared to recent years. Many Americans have opted to run shorter races on the road and bypass the marathon to prepare for February’s U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles.

Fernando Cabada enters with the fastest personal best, 2:11:36, set in last year’s Berlin Marathon. He has stated that he has no time goal for Sunday’s race, which points towards his using Chicago as a tune-up for the Olympic trials. He struggled in April’s Boston Marathon, where he ran 2:22:05 and finished 22nd. With the lack of strength among the top runners, Cabada could crack into the top five with a solid race. If he fails to finish in the top 10, work needs to be done before he toes the line in Los Angeles.

Luke Puskedra looks to rebound on the World Marathon Majors stage after tanking in his marathon debut last fall in New York City. His time of 2:28:54 was slower than that of the women’s champion Mary Keitany, who finished in 2:25:07. Puskedra briefly quit the sport and was dropped by his sponsor Nike. He returned to run 2:15:27 for sixth at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., in June. Puskedra hopes to finally match the level of his 1:01:36 half-marathon personal best from 2012 at the 26.2 mile distance.

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