Sammy Wanjiru wins 2010 B of A Chicago!, by Larry Eder

Sammy Wanjiru, Tsegaye Kebede, B of A Chicago Marathon press conference,

In a battle literally down to the last 1,000 meters, Sammy Wanjiru showed why he is the top marathoner in the world. After having dropped out of London in April 2010, and an Italian 11k road race this past summer, there were doubters.

On Friday, Sammy walked the Chicago Expo, and I met him in the Nike booth with Frederica Rosa, his agent. I asked Sammy, " how are you feeling, ready to win.", Sammy, who speaks fluent Japanese noted, " I feel great, I want to win!"

The 1968 Olympic gold medalist at the decathlon once noted, " The guy who wins the gold medal covets it the most." Well, Sammy Wanjiru wanted to win today, and he fought to the finish line, pointing two fingers up to the sky, showing the fierce pride to a top competitor!

Here is how Sammy Wanjiru won the 2010 Bank of America Chicago marathon:

Sammy Wanjiru won the Beijing Olympics in 2008, at ripe old age of 21, with an Olympic record. In April 2009, Sammy ran the Virgin London Marathon. Hitting the halfway in a suicidal 1.01.35, Wanjiru held on for a new London course record of 2:05.10, holding off Tsegaye Kebede by ten seconds. In October 2009, Sammy Wanjiru came into Bank of America Chicago marathon, broke the course record with his 2:05.41, breaking Khalid Khannouchi's course record by one second! That win gave him the World Marathon Majors, and Sammy Wanjiru became the youngest male to win the World Marathon Majors!

2010 was a tough year. Sammy dropped out of Virgin London in April 2010. This past summer, he dropped out of an Italian road race about 11k, complaining of chest strain. Word on street was that Sammy was just not training hard, other stuff was that he was injured. How wrong the word on the street was....Wanjiru was training and getting himself back into shape!

Having spent most of his training time in Japan since 2002, when he began attending Sendai Ikue high school in Northern Japan. At the age of 15, Sammy ran 28:36.08 for 10,000m and a world record for 15 year olds! He ran 26:41.75 in 2005 for 10,000 meters, a world junior record! Sammy has one other world junior record, the half marathon, where he ran 59:16.  Sammy represented the Toyota Kyushu Company for several years. Coached by 1992 Olympic silver medalist Koichi Morishita of Japan, Sammy returned to Kenya in June 2008, and while living with his wife, Teresa and daughter, Alie, he focuses on his goals--winning.

Wanjiru is a racer. For guys like him, fast times happen, but winning is willed. Wanjiru willed himself to win this race.

Sammy Wanjiru was out with the pace setters, who hit the mile in 4:48 and 5k in 15:03. 10k was hit in 29:33, with that second 5k in 14:39. There was a pack of eleven, including four pace setters. Tsegaye Kebede, 2010 Virgin London winner, Sammy Wanjiru, Robert Kipruto Cheruiyot, 2010 Boston Champion.

The pace setters did their work, with Wanjiru, Wesley Korir, Robert Kipruto Cheruiyot, and Tsebeya Kebede, this was a formidable pack! The battle royale would come from this group. Wanjiru and Kebede were fighting over a $500,000 payday! The battle for the Marathon Major supremacy was between these two racers.

The pack of 11 to 12 hit the 15k in 44:38, with Wanjiru next to the pace makers, Merga nearby and Wesley Korir, in attendance. The pack was down to eight when they hit the half marathon, which was hit in 1:02:36. Kebede was upfront, pushing, testing, pushing. Sammy Wanjiru, who had suffered bad back and knee was looking great!

Racers race. In this race, it was Tsegaye Kebede and Sammy Wanjiru's fate to battle each other over two hours. For racers, first one has to get rid of any many competitors as they can, so the time between 20k and 25k, hit in 1:15 and change, and just kept moving. The 30k was hit in 1:29:36. Feyisa Lilesa, Wesley Korir, Sammy Wanjiru andTsegaye Kebede.

" I wanted to win this race, " noted Kebede afterwards. Kebede pushed the pace, Wanjiru responded, and it was literally, a see saw race. Between 25-30k, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot fell off the back, and was ten seconds behind! Tsegaye Kebede started to really put down the hammer. (The 5k between 25-30k was 15:07).

Now, the race got ugly...Tsegaye ran a 4:40 mile between 19 and 20, then a 4:41, then a 4:43. By 35km, it was down to three...Sammy Wanjiru, Tsegaye Kebede and Feyisa Lilesa, with Wesley Korir, fighting hard, but 20 seconds back. The twenty mile mark was hit in 1:35.09, (remember, the first ten miles were run in 47:39, and second ten miles in 48:20).  The 35km was hit in 1:44.19.

So, the pack was down to three, Tsegaye Kebede, 2010 Virgin London champ, Sammy Wanjiru, Olympic champ, London & Chicago champ and Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia, who some picked to win. Lilesa was running in third, staying relaxed. Kebede and Wanjiru were banging heads, and it was too close to call.

A terribly exciting race! TV announcer Toni Reavis, was giving us play by play on TV, in what many will note as the most competitive race in marathon history! Kebede pressed and pressed, Wanjiru would fall back, charge to the front, fall back, charge to the front.

The 5k between 30k and 35k was run in 14:42. But Wanjiru and Kebede would not give up! The 5k between 35 and 40k was run in 15:30, and it was down to two, Sammy Wanjiru and Tsegaye Kebede.

" I did not have a good year," noted Sammy Wanjiru afterwards. " I had bad back, sore knee and my stomach..." for the past several weeks, Sammy had had some stomach issues that literally slowed him down. " I am feeling better now, " smiled Sammy.

The 40 Kilometer were hit in 1:59:50 by Tsegaye Kebede, with Sammy Wanjiru three seconds back and Lilesa fourteen seconds down. Had Kebede made the decisive move?

Apparently not!

What can you say about such an epic battle? Wanjiru would not give up, and Kebede would not give up either-both men wanted the race, and were equipped to take the race to the finish.  Over the last 2 kilometers, Wanjiru and Kebede continued to battle, running the last mile in approximately 4:34 over the final mile.

Sammy Wanjiru came up on Tsegaye Kebede, and Kebede would not give up. With just about 1,000 meters to go, Wanjiru just put it all on the table, and kicked hard, running the last 400 meters very, very fast-the last 2.2 k was run in 6:34!

Wanjiru arched his back, in his peculiar style, lifted his arms and quickly took a few meters over Kebede, and put nineteen seconds on Kebede over the last thousand meters. By six hundred meters to go, Wanjiru had the race. With 200 meters to go, Wanjiru lifted up his hand and noted two fingers up for two victories.

A hard won victory, Sammy Wanjiru defended his B of A Chicago victory from 2009, with a time of 2:06:24 to Tsegaye Kebede's 2:06:43. This race had the winners of London, Chicago, Houston, Boston all in the top ten. No excuses here. Put the studs on the line and let them go at it. That is what happened, my friends in Chicago on 10.10.10!

After the race, Carey Pinkowski put much of what we saw in perspective: " This race is all about champions. It requires a champion to win, and Tsegaye and Sammy are champions. That is what the Bank of America Chicago marathon has been about for 33 years. From the time of Steve Jones and Joan Benoit Samuelson, to day, this race has a history of great champions!" 

Virgin London marathon race director, former 10,000m world record holder David Bedford observed after the race, " this may have been the most competitive marathon in history. In the end, Sammy Wanjiru had the benefit of winning an Olympic gold medal. He knows how to compete and they both showed today how exciting and competitive marathoning could be. Could you imagine how many fans our sport would have if all races were like this?"

2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon top ten

1. Sammy Wanjiru, Kenya, 2:06.24
2. Tsegaye Kebede, Ethiopia, 2:06:43
3. Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopia, 2:08:10
4. Wesley Korir, Kenya, 2:08:44
5. Vincent Kipruto, Kenya, 2:09:08
6. Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, Kenya, 2:09:28
7. Laban Moiben, Kenya, 2:10:48
8. Jason Hartmann, USA, 2:11:06 (PB, first American)
9. Ridouane Harroufi, Morocco, 2:13:01
10. Mike Sayenko, USA, 2:14:27

Dnfs: Nick Arciniaga and James Carney (hit the half marathon in 1:05.15, 1:05:26)


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