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2008 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Women's Preview
by LetsRun.com


Instead of writing a straight race preview which provides nothing suspenseful, we thought we'd preview the 2008 Bank of America Chicago Marathon by each day profiling a runner in our top five. Friday we'll unveil the overall race preview.

Today it's time for #1 to be revealed.

Previous Picks:
#2 Bezunesh Bekele (Ethiopia)
#3 Constantina Tomescu-Dita (Romania)
#4 Kiyoko Shimahara (Japan)
#5 Worknesh Tola (Ethiopia)

#1 - Berhane Adere (Ethiopia)
Was there any doubt that we would pick the two-time defending champion as our #1 pick to win the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon? On paper, Adere has everything going for her. In addition to being the two-time defending champion, she also enters Chicago with the best personal record in the marathon of anyone in the field thanks to the 2:20:42 she ran to win Chicago in 2006. She also has the top marathon time of anyone in the field for 2008 as she ran 2:22:42 to pick up a cool $250,000 in winning the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in January. She also has the best personal bests of anyone in the field at 3k (8:25.62), 5k (14:29.32), 10k (30:04.18), and the half marathon (1:07:32) as she used to be a top-notch track runner with African records in the 5,000 and 10,000 as well as a world indoor record in the 3,000.

A certain winner? By no stretch of the imagination. If you are looking for reasons not to pick Adere, there are a few. One, she hasn't run particularly well since early in the year. She was only 7th at the Flora London Marathon in 2:27:42 before dropping out of the Olympic marathon. Two, she is 35 years old. Is time finally catching up with her? Or was she perhaps a little less motivated than normal after winning so much money in Dubai? We'll find out on Sunday in Chicago.

#2 - Bezunesh Bekele
Bekele is a neophyte at the marathon but some don't need much experience to excel at the 26.2 mile distance. After finishing 4th in the World Half Marathon Championships last fall in an impressive 1:08:07, Bekele made her first attempt at the marathon at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in January of 2008. Bekele ran 2:23:09 to finish 2nd and become the 3rd fastest Ethiopian marathoner in history, trailing only Gete Wami (2:21:34) and Berhane Adere (2:20:42). That's the good news. The bad news is Adere is the one that beat her in Dubai; Adere has won the last two Chicago marathons, and Adere is running Chicago again in 2009.

Bekele hasn't run any prep races heading into Chicago so it's hard to assess how her Chicago preparations have gone. The one big huge positive she has over her expected chief rivals in Chicago in Adere and Olympic champion Constantina Tomescu-Dita is age. Bekele is only 25 while Adere and Tomescu-Dita are 35 and 38 respectively. Being young and motivated to establish yourself as one of the big marathon stars of today goes a long way. A strong performance in a world marathon major like Chicago would certainly do that.

Bank of American Chicago Marathon Bio:
Bezunesh Bekele (Romania)

Birthdate: January 29, 1983
Personal Best: 2:23:09 (Dubai, 2008)

Marathon Highlights:
01/18/08  Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon  2nd  2:23:09

Career Notes:
Bekele has only completed one marathon but she had an impressive debut. At the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon last January she trailed only veteran Berhane Adere by just 27 seconds to become the third fastest Ethiopian marathoner of all time behind Adere and Gete Wami.

She gave evidence of her ability at this distance by running half as far in 1:08:07 at the 2007 IAAF Half-Marathon World Championships in Udine, Italy.

In 2008 Bekele was third at the BUPA Great Manchester 10K (32:33). She has track PRs of 15:02.48 (5000m) and 31:10.68 (10,000m).

Personal Notes:
Bekele is also known as Bezunesh Bekele Sertsu and she was born in Addis Ababa.

#3 - Constantina Tomescu-Dita (Romania)
Many have assumed that the Chicago field would be greatly weakened this year because it's early October date is too close for an Olympic marathoner to recover and do a new buildup. That may be true but it's also close enough that a runner might try to maintain his or her current form as is the case this year with Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania. The reigning Olympic Champion is in Chicago looking for her 2nd Chicago title.

For those of you thinking that there is no way Tomescu-Dita can run well in a marathon just 56 days after capturing the Olympic title and that she must certainly be in Chicago solely to pick up a huge appearance fee, clearly you haven't been studying Tomescu-Dita's past career. Tomescu-Dita regularly runs two marathons in the same season, and when she does so, she normally runs better in the 2nd marathon than the first. In 2003, she didn't finish the World Championships before finishing 2nd in Chicago. Four years ago in the last Olympic cycle, Tomescu-Dita was only 20th in Athens in 2:37:31, but she ran Chicago that year and won it in 2:23:45. It's important to realize that in 2004, she actually had three less days between the two races than this year. In 2005, she was 3rd in the Worlds in 2:23:19 before finishing 2nd in Chicago in her personal best time of 2:21.30.

So history clearly says that Tomescu-Dita can run well in the Worlds or Olympics and then again in Chicago. So if that's the case, then why aren't we picking her to win? Very simple. She's run 26 marathons in her life and only won four of them. We'll go with another bit of history, which says that 85% of the time she doesn't win. Of course, history wouldn't have picked her to win in Beijing either.

Bank of American Chicago Marathon Bio:

Constantina Tomescu-Dita (Romania)

Birthdate: January 23, 1970
Personal Best: 2:21:30 (Chicago, 2005)

World Marathon Majors:
08/17/08  Olympic Marathon, Beijing  1st  2:26:44
04/13/08  Flora London Marathon  8th  2:27:45
04/22/07  Flora London Marathon  3rd  2:23:55
10/22/06  LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon  5th  2:24:25
04/23/06  Flora London Marathon  7th  2:27:51
10/09/05  LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon  2nd  2:21:30
08/14/05  World Championships Marathon  3rd  2:23:19
04/17/05  Flora London Marathon  2nd  2:22:50
10/10/04  LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon  1st  2:23:45
08/20/04  Olympic Marathon, Athens  20th  2:37:31
08/18/04  Flora London Marathon  3rd  2:26:52
10/12/03  LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon  2nd  2:23:35
04/20/03  Flora London Marathon  6th  2:23:43
08/12/01  World Championships Marathon  10th  2:30:38
08/29/99  World Championships Marathon  19th  2:36:28

Additional Marathon Highlights:
01/27/08  Osaka International Ladies Marathon  9th  2:28:15
12/08/02  Singapore Marathon  1st  2:36:06
10/20/02  Amsterdam Marathon  2nd  2:23:54
03/03/02  Los Angeles Marathon  4th  2:33:58
11/18/01  Tokyo Women's Marathon  4th  2:26:39
04/21/01  Belgrade Marathon  2nd  2:33:30
10/15/00  Istanbul Marathon  2nd  2:37:57

Career Notes:
Constantina Tomescu-Dita is one of the most successful Romanian athletes of all-time. She is currently the Romanian national road record holder for the 5K, 10K, 15K, Half Marathon and the Marathon.

The highlight of her career came at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games marathon. After running with the pack through a conservative first half, she broke away and no-one chased after her. Tomescu-Dita continued to accelerate the pace and she went on to claim the Olympic gold by 22 seconds. At the age of 38 her unexpected triumph made her not just the oldest marathon champion ever, male or female, but the oldest Olympic marathon woman medalist of any kind.

In 2002, Tomescu-Dita had a brilliant year on the roads. At the Peachtree 10K she posted a Romanian record of 31:14 for second place behind Lornah Kiplagat’s course record. The following weekend in Utica, N.Y., she set another Romanian record of 48:28 in winning the 15K event. Preparing for a fall marathon she set a Romanian Half Marathon record of 1:08:10 at the national championships. A time of 15:09 in a 5K road race brought her to the Amsterdam Marathon in great shape. In line with her training and summer efforts, Tomescu-Dita posted a world class time of 2:23:54 for second place, improving on her 2:26:39 in Tokyo the previous year.

Tomescu-Dita continued to improve in 2003 and 2004 and had a career year in 2005, rewriting personal and Romanian marathon national records in London and Chicago. In April, she blazed through the Flora London Marathon to finish second in 2:22:50, a world best for women 35 and older. She also claimed victory at the Steamboat Classic (20:47) and won the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships Marathon. Tomescu-Dita then battled Deena Kastor at The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon to finish second in 2:21:30, setting another 35+ world best. In 2005 Tomescu-Dita also achieved one of her greatest victories at the IAAF World Championships Half Marathon running 1:09:17.

Early in 2006 Tomescu-Dita finished classes for her degree back in Romania, so she was short of training and finished seventh at the Flora London Marathon in 2:27:51, below the high standard she had set for herself in recent years. In August she finished 11th in the European Track Championships in the 10,000m (31:49.47). On August 27 she returned to form by placing third at the New York City Half Marathon in an impressive 1:10:11. And on October 8 she challenged Lornah Kiplagat in the IAAF World Road Running Championship 20K. Both Kiplagat and Tomescu-Dita broke the World Record for the distance, but Kiplagat snatched the win by two seconds. Tomescu-Dita's impressive finish time was 1:03:23.

At The 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, Tomescu-Dita seized the lead from the gun, establishing a near-world-record pace. She went through the half in 1:08:07 – faster than her PR – but after building a lead of more than two minutes, Tomescu-Dita began to fade, ultimately finishing fifth in 2:24:25. It should also be noted that Chicago had official timing and certification for the 25K and 30K splits and Tomsecu-Dita's times (1:21:31 and 1:38:30) were better than the official IAAF world records, but a doping test problem prevented them from ratification.

Continuing to defy age, Tomescu-Dita placed third at the 2007 Flora London Marathon in 2:23:55 at the age of 37 and prior to the Olympics in 2008 had a ninth place 2:28:15 at Osaka and eighth place at London.

Personal Notes:
Constantina Tomsecu was born Constantina Dita in Turburea, Romania. She is married to her coach Valeriu Tomescu-Dita and they have a son Raphael born in 1995. Tomescu-Dita is a former handball player and is known by the nickname "Pusha.” In February 2006 she received a Bachelor's Degree in Sports and Physical Education from the Bucharest Sports Academy.

#4 - Kiyoko Shimahara
We're not going to lie. Originally, we were going to go with Russia's Alevtina Bikitimirova in the number four position as she was the runnerup this spring in Boston. But Biktimirova's results were so bad at the end of the summer (she was only 15th in Russian nationals in 34:22 before following that up 11 days later with an equally dismal 19th place in the half marathon in New York on July 28th in 1:17:17) that we had to kick her off the list entirely.

Japan's Kiyoko Shimahara is our fourth pick for the 2008 Bank of Chicago Marathon. Her career highlight came in 2007 when she was 6th in the World Championships marathon. Her recent results haven't been all that impressive, as she was just 10th in the half marathon in New York on July 28th in 1:13:41, but Shimahara is a consistent performer who ran 2:26 in 2004, 2005 and 2006 before getting sixth at the Worlds last year. Her less-than-stellar half performance doesn't have us too worried about her prospects, as she isn't the fastest of runners at the shorter distances. Her 10k PR is only 32:54.

If Chicago 2008 is a repeat of Chicago 2007 in terms of scorching hot weather, then Shimahara's stock rises a great deal in our minds as she's a proven hot-weather runner. She ran her PR of 2:26:14 in hot conditions in Sapporo in 2005 and obviously did well in the heat at last year's Worlds.

Bank of American Chicago Marathon Bio:
Kiyoko Shimahara (Japan)
Birthdate: December 22, 1976
Personal Best 2:26:14

World Marathon Majors:

09/02/07  IAAF World Championships, Osaka  6th  2:31:40
04/22/07  Flora London Marathon  DNF
04/17/06  Boston Marathon  5th  2:26:52

Additional Marathon Highlights:
03/09/08  Nagoya International Ladies Marathon  11th  2:30:30
12/09/06  Asian Games Marathon, Doha  2nd  2:30:34
01/29/06  Osaka International Ladies Marathon  3rd  2:26:47
08/28/05  Hokkaido Marathon  2nd  2:26:14
11/21/04  Tokyo International Women’s Marathon  2nd  2:26:43
11/16/03  Tokyo International Women’s Marathon  3rd  2:31:10
02/11/03  Hitachinaka Marathon  1st  2:28:17

Career Notes:
Shimahara's marathon career started impressively with a sub-2:30 victory at Hitachinaka, Japan. She continued to break 2:30 at other Japanese marathons and early in 2006 she recorded a personal best 1:10:16 at the Miyazaki Half Marathon before placing third in Osaka. Shimahara fell just short of her personal best when she ran 2:26:52 to place fifth at the 2006 Boston Marathon.

She says her proudest running accomplishment was finishing as thetop Japanese runner and second overall at the 2004 Tokyo International Women’s Marathon. She won the silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games marathon and competing on home soil in 2007 came in sixth at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka.

Personal Notes:
Shimahara was born in Yamaguchi Prefecture and currently lives in Tokyo. She is a 1999 graduate of Kokushikan University with a degree in physical fitness.

#5 - Worknesh Tola (Ethiopia)
One might think Tola is an easy pick for the top five as in her last four marathons she has finished third, third, second and second. However, none of those marathons were part of the World Marathon Majors. In fact, she's only finished in the top five of a major once (5th in Berlin in 2005). That being said, we think a top 5 showing in Chicago is very doable.

She comes into the race with the sixth-fastest personal best of everyone entered and the 31-year-old is running well as she set her marathon career best of 2:25:37 in Paris in April. In her only prep race for Chicago, she sliced 2:22 from her half marathon PR by running 1:11:00 to win in Glasgow on September 7th.

She's fit and ready to go. Look for her to get top five.

Chances of her winning? Extremely slim in our minds for two reasons. One - she's outclassed by a few others in the field and thus they'd have to have serious problems for her to win. Two - she's never won a marathon in her life. Nought for 16.

Bank of American Chicago Marathon Bio:
Worknesh Tola (Ethiopia)

Birthdate: June 6, 1977
Personal Best: 2:25:37 (Paris, 2008)

World Marathon Majors:
09/25/05  real,- Berlin Marathon  5th  2:35:31
08/22/04  Olympic Games Marathon, Athens  DNF
08/31/03  IAAF World Championships, Paris  46th  2:39:25

Additional Marathon Highlights:
04/06/08  Paris International Marathon  2nd  2:25:37
01/13/08  Chevron Houston Marathon  2nd  2:35:38
10/07/07  Ford Köln Marathon  3rd  2:34:28
06/03/07  Rock 'n Roll Marathon, San Diego  3rd  2:32:59
03/18/07  Seoul International Marathon  5th  2:30:56
06/03/06  Salt Lake City Marathon  2nd  2:42:01
03/13/05  Seoul International Marathon  4th  2:29:54
03/14/04  Seoul International Marathon  2nd  2:26:22
03/16/03  Seoul International Marathon  2nd  2:25:42
10/20/02  Amsterdam Marathon  4th  2:29:10
04/21/02  Rotterdam Marathon  6th  2:37:10

Career Notes:
It took her more than five years, but at the Paris International Marathon last April, Worknesh Tola finally lowered her PR set at Seoul in March 2003. Tola crossed the finish line in 2:25:37, shaving five seconds from her previous PR.

In her last four marathons, Tola has finished third-third-second-second, so she's hoping to move up one more place at Chicago. In fact, she has never won a marathon, with five lifetime runner-up placings.

She has won several other races including the 2002 Deurne (Holland) Half-Marathon where she ran a lifetime best of 1:13:30.

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