Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto, last year’s men’s winner at Chicago in a course record of 2hr 3min 45sec, opted to run in this month’s Berlin Marathon instead of defending his crown on October 12.
But the stage is set for a fast field as Ethiopia’s Bekele, the 10,000m and 5,000m world record-holder who stepped up to the marathon this year, faces a familiar foe in Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, a famed distance runner who made his move to the longer distance last year at Hamburg.
Bekele won his marathon debut last April in Paris in 2:05:04.
“After my win in Paris, I understand the marathon distance a lot better and I will bring that experience to Chicago,” Bekele said.
“I know Chicago has a very fast course and, therefore, my goal is to break the course record of 2:03:45. After that, everything is possible.”
Jeptoo makes her return to Chicago having won the Boston Marathon in a course record 2:18:57 back in April.
Men’s stars include Bekele and Kipchoge, whose personal best is 2:04:05, plus Kenyans Sammy Kitwara (2:05:16), Bernard Koech (2:04:53) and Dickson Chumba (2:05:42).
Jeptoo’s fastest rivals include training partner Jemima Sumgong (2:20:48), fellow-Kenyan Florence Kiplagat (2:19:44) and Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba (2:22:30).
Bekele, 32, won Olympic 10,000m gold in 2004 at Athens and 2008 at Beijing, where he also claimed the 5,000m crown. He won four world titles in a row at 10,000m, the last in 2009, and won both the long and short races at the world cross country championships from 2002-2006.
Kipchoge, the 2003 world champion at 5,000m who took medals at the Athens and Beijing Olympics, won this year’s Rotterdam Marathon in 2:05:00.
“I am looking forward to coming to Chicago and competing with Kenenisa on the road this time,” Kipchoge said. “It has a fast course and I want to better my personal best.”
Kitwara was third last year in a personal best while Koech beat Kipchoge in last year’s San Diego Half Marathon.
Jeptoo could become only the third woman to break 2min 20sec for a third time in her career while Sumgong, who won last year at Rotterdam, stayed with Jeptoo over the first 35 kilometers last year on her way to second place.
Kiplagat, who pulled out of the 2012 Chicago marathon with an injury is aiming to lower her personal best. She won the Berlin title last year and in 2011.
“It’s no retreat and no surrender for me,” Kiplagat said. “It’s a do-or-die game and I will give all my best to succeed.”