The 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon will feature thousands of runners from all over the world, but amidst all the pageantry and competition, there will be plenty of compelling storylines to follow across the course.
Some of the top runners in the sport will descend on Chicago for the event, with Paralympic hopes, spots in the Olympic Trials in Atlanta, and personal bests all up for grabs this weekend.
Here are some of the big headlines to watch for during the race:
Implications for Olympic Team Trials
The marathon is the highest-profile event remaining in which runners can establish qualifying times for the Team USA Olympic Team Trials in Atlanta next February. Runners in the men’s draw will need to hit a time of at least 2:19:00 to cross the “B” standard threshold and to qualify for the Time Trial in Atlanta, while runners in the women’s field will need to hit a time of at least 2:45:00 to qualify.
Several runners have already hit their qualifying times, including Galen Rupp, who ran a 2:06:07 in the Prague Marathon in 2018, and Scott Smith, who ran a 2:12:21 time at the Frankfurt Marathon in 2017.
Jordan Hasay made her qualifying time at the 2017 Chicago Marathon, running a 2:20:57, and Emma Bates ran a 2:28:19 in the California International Marathon in Sacramento in 2018.
According to the USA Track & Field website, American runner Laura Thweatt has not yet qualified for the Olympic trials. She has a personal best of 2:25:38, and if she can put up a similar time in Chicago, she’ll punch her ticket into the Olympic trials in Atlanta.
There are several runners who will be vying to hit the “A” standard for the time trial, which is an even higher bar at 2:37:00. Kristin Heckert is in that group, as she’ll look to better her 2:38:54 time she ran in the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. That time also happens to be her personal best, so she’ll have to dig deep to put up a faster time.
Automatic Berths in the Paralympics Are at Stake
Unlike the men’s and women’s races, runners will be able to secure automatic qualification to the 2020 Paralympics with strong enough performances in Chicago.
According to the Team USA Paralympic squad, the first two American men and women to cross the finish line in the Chicago Marathon will be eligible to compete in Tokyo, provided that they meet the minimum time standard established by the IAAF. For the men, that time is 1:35:00, and for the women it’s 1:58:00.
According to marathon officials, those competitors will need to have also met the “A” standard in order to automatically qualify for the Olympic team. Several racers in both the men’s and women’s fields have already hit that standard, including Daniel Romanchuk, Sussanah Scaroni, and Tatyana McFadden.
A Stacked American Field Looks to Dominate the Women’s Race
With many competitors looking to use the marathon as a statement race ahead of next year’s Olympic qualifying trials, race fans are going to be treated to some of the best women’s distance runners in the country.
Hasay headlines the strong field as she will look to break her personal best of 2:20:57 in the race. If she can best that number, she could put Deena Kastor’s American record in jeopardy. She ran a 2:19:36 marathon in 2006 when she dominated the field and won the London Marathon. That number could be in reach for Hasay, who is making her return to the race after missing last year’s edition due to injury.
A group of talented runners are also looking to join Hasay on the podium, including Bates, who will look to improve upon her personal best of 2:28:19, and Stephanie Bruce, who has a career personal best of 2:29:20.
Thweatt will be vying to establish a qualifying time for the Olympic trials in the race, and Lindsay Flanagan and Taylor Ward will hope to round out a strong women’s field.
According to marathon officials, the last time three American women finished in the top five of the race was in 1994, and the last time the American contingent went 1-2 in the women’s race was all the way back in 1992.
The Americans Will Have Stiff Competition
While several American women are looking to take the top spot on the podium in Chicago, they’re going to have to work to dethrone Brigid Kosgei, who has her eyes on history as she runs through the city.
Kosgei’s personal record time is 2:18:20, which she set earlier this year in the London Marathon. That still leaves her with plenty of work to do if she wants to beat the all-time record, which currently stands at 2:15:25 thanks to Paula Radcliffe’s blistering performance in the 2003 London Marathon.
Even if she falls short of that incredible mark, she’s still within range of making history in Chicago, where the fastest time ever, 2:17:18, also belongs to Radcliffe.
Last Two Men’s Champs Go Head-to-Head
In 2017, Galen Rupp became the first American to win the Chicago Marathon in 15 years when he ran a 2:09:20 to triumph in the race.
In 2018, Mo Farah stepped up to the plate in a big way, putting down a 2:05:11 time as he captured the marathon crown, becoming the first British winner of the race in over 20 years.
This year, both Rupp and Farah will be in the field for Chicago, and will hope they get the chance to go head-to-head to determine the winner.
Even with the absence of both Getanen Molla and Herpasa Negasa from the field, Farah and Rupp will have to contend with Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono and Dickson Chumba, who won the 2015 edition of the race. Ethiopia’s Asefa Mengstu and Seifu Tura are also in the field, and both runners have bested the career best times of both Farah and Rupp in their careers.
Women’s Wheelchair Race Features Several Racing Legends
After winning the women’s race for seven straight years, Tatyana McFadden was dethroned in 2018, as Manuela Schar of Switzerland triumphed in the race and ended McFadden’s incredible reign.
Both women are back in this year’s field, but they will face some stiff competition in the form of Susannah Scaroni. The two-time Paralympian made her debut in the Chicago Marathon in 2011, and since then has put up some strong results in the race, including a third-place finish last season.
Scaroni will hope to outduel both racers down the stretch in Chicago, but she’ll also have to fend off Amanda McGrory of Team USA and Sandra Graf of Switzerland to do so.
Men’s Wheelchair Race Features Plenty of Hometown Connections
The men’s field will be chasing Ernst Van Dyk of South African and Canada’s Josh Cassidy, but the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will ensure that there will be plenty of blue and orange worn among fans at the race.
Three of the top men’s wheelchair racers in the field hail from the school, including defending race champion Daniel Romanchuk. He is also the defending champion at the New York City Marathon, the Boston Marathon, and the London Marathon, and he will be looking to continue his incredible dominance on the streets of Chicago.
Aaron Pike is another Illini-product to keep an eye on, as the Champaign-native will try to improve upon his best performances in the race. He finished in sixth last year, and has a career-best finish of fourth in the race, which he hit in 2012.
While Brian Siemann doesn’t have the race results that the others in the Champaign-contingent have, he has put together some strong races, including the 1:26:46 time he put together in Boston during the 2017 marathon.
He does have a top-five finish this season in a marathon, finishing fifth in Duluth, but will have some work do after finishing in 24th place during last year’s Chicago Marathon.