2011 Bank  Of America Chicago Marathon Women's Preview: Shobukhova Takes On The Clock

By LetsRun.com
October 7, 2011

Much as is the case with the men's race, there is one clear favorite for Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Two-time defending champion Liliya Shobukhova enters as the heavy favorite. Shobukhova is the reigning World Marathon Majors champion and has run very well in all of her career marathons. There really is nothing to not like about her.

 Liliya Shobukhova Finishing 2nd In London

Prior to moving to the marathon in 2009, Shobukova put up stellar track credentials - a 14:23 5,000 and an 8:27 indoor 3,000 world record. Since moving to the marathon, Shobukhova has been the poster child of consistency. She's run 5 marathons - all either in Chicago or London - and all of the races have been stellar. Her marathon career is as follows:

2009 - 3rd in London 2:24:24
2009 - 1st in Chicago 2:25:56
2010 - 1st in London 2:22:00
2010 - 1st in Chicago 2:20:25
2011 - 2nd in London 2:20:15

In her last three marathons, she's run 2:22:00 or faster. Given her credentials, it's likely that Shobukhova would be the favorite in almost any marathon she ran, but some recent injuries/illnesses have knocked out many of her potential top challengers, and thus it's really hard to see her losing unless she's totally off her game, as the Chicago women's elite field has been decimated and is quite honestly barely elite.

After the recent withdrawals due to injury/illness which were announced on October 5th (Inga Abitova RUS 2:22:19, Benita Willis AUS 2:22:36, Wei Yanan CHN 2:23:12), there  now there are only three other starters in the field who have even broken 2:25:00 in their careers. In fact, the potential contenders to Shobukova are so weak that we are going to call them the Pretenders.

The Pretenders
That one entrant in the field besides Shobvukova who has broken 2:22:00 in her career is 27-year-old Ethiopian Askale Tafa, who ran 2:21:31 in Berlin in 2008. But we don't really consider her a threat to win the title unless Shobukhova really falters. Why? Well, Tafa is no marathon neophyte. She's run 16 marathons and only two of them have been under 2:24:30 (Shobukhova has only run one slower than 2:24:30) and both were in 2008. Earlier this year, she was 11th in London in 2:25:24. But if she's on her A game, she's probably the only one in the field who could possibly run with an in-form Shobukhova.

The next best person on paper is the 10th-place finisher from London this year (2:25:18) - Maria Konovalova of Russia. London is the most competitive professional marathon in the world, but 10th in London isn't the equivalent of winning in Chicago. The 37-year-old did run 2:23:50 to get third in Chicago last summer, so a spot on the podium isn't a stretch for the 5th placer in the 10,000 at the Beijing Olympics.

36-year-old French marathon record holder Christelle Daunay is the only other person in the field with  personal best under 2:25:00, as she ran 2:24:22 in Paris in April of 2010. We think Daunay is an inspirational story but not one that is capable of winning in Chicago unless Shobukova is totally off her game. Daunay's bio says she's been running competitively since age 11 but she didn't really get good until very late in life. In 2004, when she turned 30, her PRs were 15:09 for 5,000, 32:09 for 10,000 and 72:37 for the half marathon. It wasn't until 2006 that she decided to put off her job as a physiotherapist to focus on London 2012. Clearly, she's gotten a lot better, but winning in Chicago would be a big stretch.

The only other person in the race with a PR even under 2:30 is 20-year-old Yue Cao of China, who has a 2:29:50 PR. Now given the fact that she's only 20, one might think she's a marathon neophyte but you'd be wrong if you thought that as this is her 5th marathon. She only ran 33:22.97 for 9th in the Chinese Champs at 10,000 last month, so it's clear to us that she's totally outclassed here.

The Late Entrant and A 2:40 Marathoner Who Could Win It
The field is so watered down with the recent pullouts that this race might honestly not be worth watching if not for a late addition and a 2:40 marathoner we overlooked. Earlier this week, Chicago did a good job of scrambling and added in 2004 Olympic silver medallist Ejegayehu Dibaba of Ethiopia to the field. The 29-year-old elder sister of Tirunesh Dibaba will make her marathon debut in the Windy City on Sunday. She comes into the race with a 30:18 10,000 PR, but she's only competed sparingly the last few years and never run a race longer than 10,000. Since her participation was only announced on the day the three big withdrawals were announced, we imagine she wasn't planning on racing in Chicago. Thus, it's really hard to imagine her contending. But she will certainly be worth watching as her performance might give distance fans some insight as to how her younger sister Tirnuesh, the double Olympic champion from 2008 (5,000 and 10,000), might fare if she moves up to the 26.2 distance.

And that brings us to Kayoko Fukushi. She's run one competitive marathon and ran it in 2:40:54 in Osaka in 2008. Before you dismiss her realize she has run 30:51.81 for 10k (#2 Japanese ever) and was on 2:21 pace at 30km in Osaka. There were huge expectations with her marathon debut and now three years later she is back trying again. Apparently she still has high expectations. When she announced she was running Chicago she said, "At this year's Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I want to challenge the 2:20 mark." This spring Fukushi was running great with a 1:09:00 half marathon and a 30:54 10,000m. We'll see on Sunday not only her current fitness but weather she is ready for the full marathon distance.

Note: An earlier version of this story left out Kayako Fukushi who could be a real factor in Sunday's race. Thanks to Brett Larner of Japan Running Blogspot for pointing out our omission. Brett looks at the Japanese chances in Chicago here. Brett also notes that this year's Chicago marathon will not be carried on television in the most marathon mad country in the world Japan.

*LRC Prediction: Shobukova rolls on in a romp, Fukushi hangs tough for 21 miles.

2011 Elite Women
Liliya Shobukhova            
Askale Tafa                       
Maria Konovalova               
Christelle Daunay                   
Yue Cao                            
Belainesh Gebre
Claire Hallissey
Jeannette Faber
Leah Thorvilson                 
Kayoko Fukushi
Ejegayhu Dibaba
Malika Mejdoub                 
Cruz Nonata da Silva         




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