The 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon kicked off today with the elite athlete press conference at the Chicago Hilton. Before the official goings on got underway, I sat down for a short chat with Carey Pinkowski, the executive race director for the last 23 years. I began by asking the one-time sub-9:00 high school two-miler and Villanova grad how he orchestrated his professional fields, not just this year, but in general.
“Is there a formula? No. But it’s like casting a play. What I like (in a field) is chemistry. So you get some runners with experience (like Emmanuel Mutai), and some guys with inexperience (like Atsedu Tsegay). I like risk takers. I like athleticism complimenting each other. You know how I know I have done my job? It is when I look at the list and see the outcome one way. Then when I look at the list an hour later I come to a completely different conclusion. It’s when there are five or six scenarios possible that I know I’ve done it right.
But I must admit I do like young fearless racers and first-time guys. Khalid Khannouchi is one example. Steve Jones is another. There is something in Chicago’s history that plays to that kind of athlete. When Khalid Khannouchi first came to town I asked if he’d like to see the course. He said, ‘yeah’. And I thought, well, this will take three hours out of my day. But then he said he only wanted to see the final five kilometers. When I asked why, he said, ‘because that’s the only distance I’m going to race’.”
WHAT IS THE STATE OF WORLD MARATHON MAJORS?
“The six of us (World Marathon Majors) are confident that we’ve created a tradition. And we see the WMM becoming more elite dominant. We are having meetings in New York City in November that I can’t talk about, but with Tokyo coming on board and opening the Asian market, I think you will see a grander commitment to the World Marathon Majors, and more visibility in 2014.
“We are still a relatively young series (began in 2006), and what’s happened in the sport in the last year, the bombings at Boston and the cancellation of New York City, profoundly affected the sport. So it’s been a challenging year for the industry. But I am confident and excited about what’s ahead.”
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE COMPETITOR GROUP’S DECISION TO STEP BACK FROM ELITE COMPETITION AT ITS ROCK `n` ROLL EVENTS?
As far as Competitor Group, that’s their decision. The Chicago Marathon has a true sporting tradition, and we won’t compromise that tradition, that foundation. It’s part of our DNA. It’s our responsibility to educate the people with our media efforts. But that won’t happen on its own, we have to do a better job of getting people interested in the outcome of our races.”
WITH WILSON KIPSANG’S RECENT WORLD RECORD IN BERLIN, MEANING THE LAST FIVE WORLD RECORDS HAVE BEEN SET IN BERLIN, IS RUNNING FAST PER SE STILL IMPORTANT IN CHICAGO? OR IS COMPETITION THE AIM?
“I think running fast can come out of competition. I was walking yesterday with some police and fire officials, and across the street (2011 Chicago champion) Moses Mosop was passing by on an easy run. They looked at him and said, ‘that’s easy? He’s flying!’ So we still have a great deal of interest in how fast they can go. At the same time competition is what makes for excitement. In 2010 we had a hotel full of experts, guys like yourself who had seen everything. And to a man everyone said Sammy Wanjiru wouldn’t make it to 20Km. They said, ‘he’s been injured, he hasn’t been training.’ But I never believed it. I looked into his eye, and then he proved all the experts wrong.”
Thanks, Carey. Good luck this weekend.
HOW FAST FOR THE FIRST HALF?
Though the athlete technical meeting is set for Saturday afternoon, there has already been talk about how fast a pace will be set on Sunday. With the weather forecast getting better and better with each passing hour, speedsters like Emmanuel Mutai and Dennis Kimetto are already expressing the desire for a sub-62:00 opening half.
“I’m looking to run a PR,“ said 2011 London Marathon champion and course record holder (2:04:40) Emmanuel Mutai. “In London (2013) the pace (at halfway) was 61:32. So for me here 61:45 would be good.” (Mutai faded in the last kilometer in London this spring, finishing second to a hard charging Tsegay Kebede, the Chicago course record holder).
Sitting alongside Mutai was fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto who holds at PR of 2:04:16 from the 2012 Berlin Marathon where he finished half a stride behind training partner Geoffrey Mutai. He just nodded in agreement when Emmanuel said 61:45.
Yet the fastest first half ever run in Chicago was in 2009, the late Sammy Wanjiru’s first of two wins. But off that 62:00 first half Wanjiru ran a 63:41 second half. By comparison, last year’s 2:04:38 course record by Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia was run off a 62:53 first half, meaning he closed in 61:45.
American star Dathan Ritzenhein is hoping to run with the leaders this year after a breakthrough 2:07:47 9th place finish last year during which he stayed off the pace throughout the race.
“I don’t want to run alone,” he said, “but 61:45 may be a little over my head. The first half here is generally a little slower and into the wind, so it makes no sense to go that fast. But if they want to…62:45 to 63:00 would be perfect for me.”
More from Dathan and the other favorites in a later blog. That’s the situation from Chicago for now.