Bank of America Chicago Marathon champions Tatyana McFadden and Kurt Fearnley will return to compete for the No. 1 spot during the Oct. 9 marathon wheelchair race this year, the organization announced Thursday.
Marathon organizers say McFadden, a 17-time Abbott World Marathon Majors winner and six-time Chicago Marathon champion, and Fearnley, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist and five-time Chicago Marathon title holder, are among "the most internationally diverse and talented professional wheelchair fields in Chicago Marathon history."
“Tatyana has established herself as one of the best athletes in the history of sport," Bank of America Chicago Marathon Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski said in a statement, "and it is always an honor to have her compete in Chicago. Our spectators know they are watching a legend when they see her race."
McFadden won her fifth consecutive Chicago Marathon in the 2015 women’s wheelchair race, finishing with an unofficial time of 1 hour, 41 minutes and 10 seconds.
"The city really moved me today," she said after her big win. "I heard my name shouted across each mile. It's really exciting that Chicago knew my name."
She also plans to compete in six events and a marathon in the Rio Paralympic Games, her fifth Paralympic appearance.
Fearnley became a household name in Chicago after completing the three-peat from 2007-2009 and then adding two more victories in 2011 and 2015.
"Kurt has won more Chicago titles than any male athlete in our history," Pinkowski said. "He has speed and endurance, so if it’s coming down to a sprint finish, you can never count him out. But it will be a real challenge for Tatyana and Kurt to defend their titles with this year’s field.”
Fearnley finished the 2015 Chicago Marathon first with a time of 1:30:46.
"It's one of those races where the last 30 seconds you feel like you're about to vomit the whole way," he said after his win. "It's just everything you have."
Fearnley heads to Rio as Australian Paralympic captain for his fifth Paralympic Games with an eye on more gold.
But McFadden and Fearnley won't be alone in their quest for Chicago victory.
McFadden’s eighth run through 29 dynamic Chicago neighborhoods will be strongly contested by Manuela Schär (SUI). McFadden and Schär are first and second, respectively, on the AbbottWMM leaderboard, with McFadden out front by 18 points.
Schär, the 2013 IPC World Championships marathon gold medalist and the official joint world record holder in the marathon, has emerged as McFadden’s main challenger. She finished second to McFadden in Chicago in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and kicked off her 2016 campaign with runner-up finishes to McFadden in Boston and London. She finished 2015 with the fastest time in the world, 1:40:56, and she owns multiple IPC and Paralympic medals. She is the European record holder in the 200m, 400m and 800m. Schar knows the Chicago course well, and she has the credentials to hand McFadden her first defeat in six years.
Also in the mix – and ranked fourth and fifth on the AbbottWMM leaderboard – are University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign alums Amanda McGrory and Susannah Scaroni.
McGrory and Scaroni boast strong histories in Chicago. McGrory is a three-time Chicago Marathon champion (2007, 2008, 2010). She was third in 2009 behind University of Illinois teammate, McFadden. In fact, the U of I duo has won every Chicago Marathon since 2007. McGrory started 2016 with a fourth place in Tokyo, a fifth in Boston and a fourth in London. Scaroni will line up in Chicago for the fifth time. Since her Chicago debut in 2011, she has collected wins in Los Angeles, Twin Cities and Duluth, and she has finished as high as fifth in the world at the IPC World Championships Marathon.
Sandra Graf (SUI), Chelsea McClammer (USA), Shirley Reilly (USA), Arielle Rausin (USA) and Katrina Gerhard (USA) are also returning to take a run at a podium finish.
More than 20 of the world’s best professional wheelchair athletes should set the stage for another year of thrilling sprint finishes down Columbus Drive.
Fearnley was the runner-up in 2014 when 11 men finished within 11 seconds of each other. The same scenario played out last fall with Fearnley winning the contest as 11 men finished within 13 seconds of each other. Unlike the dominance of a few athletes on the women’s side, the men’s race remains wide open. Marcel Hug (SUI), Van Dyk and James Senbeta (USA), currently ranked first, third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the AbbottWMM leaderboard (Fearnley is second), will challenge for the title in Chicago.
Hug, nicknamed the “silver bullet,” started his racing season with a pair of victories in Boston and London, winning each race by just one second. Hug competed in his first Chicago Marathon last year, edging out 2014 champion Josh George for second place in a photo finish. He completed his 2015 season with a third place finish in New York behind Van Dyk and George. Hug is a two-time Paralympian with a marathon silver medal (Beijing 2008), and he is the 2013 IPC World Championships Marathon gold medalist. Like many athletes in this year’s field, he races distances from 400m to 42K.
Van Dyk won the 2013 Chicago Marathon in a sprint finish, and then returned in 2014 and 2015 to pursue another Chicago victory. In both instances, he was part of an 11-man dash down Columbus Drive, finishing third and fourth. Van Dyk is best known for capturing 10 wins in Boston, including six consecutive titles from 2001-2006. He made his global debut as a seventeen-year-old at the 1992 Paralympic Games, and he has competed in every Paralympic Games since 1992, including winning back-to-back gold medals in handcycling in 2008 and 2012.
James Senbeta is a relative newcomer to the international stage, and he is the most recent athlete to emerge from the highly esteemed University of Illinois Track and Road Racing Team. He started 2016 with a duo set of fifth place finishes in Boston and London, enough to put him into fifth place on the AbbottWMM leaderboard. Senbeta finished 13th in Chicago last fall, a little more than two minutes behind the lead pack. If the beginning of his 2016 crusade is any indication, he should be a factor in this year’s race.
Josh George (USA), a four-time Chicago Marathon champion, leads a strong contingent of challengers. Race day marks his tenth Chicago Marathon, and over the past 10 years, he has finished in the top three seven times.
The following athletes should also be in the hunt for the 2016 title: Gyudae Kim (KOR), Kota Hokinoue (JPN), Rafael Botello Jimenez (ESP), Jose Jimenez Hernandez (CRI), Simon Lawson (GBR), Denis Lemeunier (FRA), Laurens Molina (CRI) and Patrick Monahan (IRL).
For more information on the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon elite field, visit chicagomarathon.com/2016elites.