Ask Chicago Marathon Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski to handicap the men's and women's elite field that will compete in Sunday's race and you may come away a little disappointed.
"I look at this list and wish I could handicap it and get an idea of what will happen, and then I pick it up a couple of hours later and it completely changes, which is what you want," Pinkowski said. "You want really balanced competition."
Chicago Marathon facts at a glanceIn 2012, the Chicago Marathon posted its largest number of finishers with 37,475 from the field of 45,000 registered runners. The event requires 130,000 race day volunteers, along with 12,000 medical personnel, 1,500 course marshalls and 400 massage therapists.
Sunday's start times
Ÿ Marathon Elite Wheelchair Start 7:15 a.m.
Ÿ Marathon Open Wheelchair Start 7:20 a.m.
Ÿ Marathon Handcycle Start 7:21 a.m.
Wave 1 start: 7:30 a.m.
Wave 2 start: 8 a.m.
TV: WMAQ Ch. 5 (7-11 a.m.)
Radio: WSCR 670-AM, also from 7-11 a.m.
9:10 a.m.: Wheelchair women's champion
9:35 a.m.: Overall men's champion
9:50 a.m.: Overall women's champion
27th mile Post-Race Party: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Grant Park, Butler Field
Open Men: Tsegaye Kebede, Ethiopia, 2:04:38 (2012)
Open Women: Paula Radcliffe, Great Britian, 2:17:18 (2002)
Wheelchair men: Heinz Frei, SUI, 1:26:56 (2010)
Wheelchair women: Ann Walters, USA, 1:44:29 (1992
Pinkowski and his team have assembled what he calls "probably the most athletic group" of runners, which is sure to thrill the nearly 2 million spectators who will pack the streets of Chicago. On the men's side, 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon champ Moses Mosop is the headliner. He is the second-fastest marathoner of all time with a personal best of 2:03:06.
The women's race will feature a rematch of the top two from last year's race. Ethiopia's Atsede Baysa beat Rita Jeptoo of Kenya by one second in a dramatic sprint down Columbus Drive.
Mosop did not compete in last year's race because of his selection to Kenya's 2012 Olympic team and subsequent injury. This year, he is healthy and is looking to reclaim the Chicago Marathon course record, which was set last year by Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede (2:04:38).
"I look forward to returning to a course and a city that I enjoyed so much," said Mosop, who posted a course record of 2:05:37 in 2011. "I lost my course record last year to Kebede and I was disappointed that I was not there to defend it. I know the competition will be great once again."
Challenging Mosop will be fellow Kenyans Dennis Kimetto and Emmanuel Mutai, and Ethiopia's Ayele Abshero, who all rank among the top 11 performers in history. Kimetto brings a lot of momentum. After finishing second at the 2012 Berlin Marathon in 2:04:16, he won the 2013 Tokyo Marathon in February in course-record time.
Another runner to watch is Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea. Tadese holds the world record in the half marathon (58:23) and was the 10,000-meter bronze medalist in the 2004 Olympics. His fastest marathon has been 2:10:41.
"He has never been on a course that complements his athleticism," Pinkowski said. "He has a great deal of speed and that equates very well here. He is really focused on the marathon. He is unbelievable talent."
The U.S. men will be led by Rockford, Mich., native Dathan Ritzenhein, the third-fastest American of all time with his 2:07:47 effort last year.
"Ritzenheim has really gotten his legs under him," Pinkowski said. "We will see a big-time performance from him. It has been a while since we have had an American up there in the lead group."
The women's race also presents great story lines. After losing last's year race by a mere second, Jeptoo returns for Sunday's race with a full head of steam. She won her second Boston Marathon title in April by 33 seconds.
Baysa, who finished second in 2010, wants to add to her 2012 title.
"Rita pushed me to my limit, all the way to the last step, and I'm sure it will be the same again," said Baysa.
"Both have trained well," Pinkowski said. "It is a great rematch."
Ready to do battle with this duo is a talented international field, including Kenya's Jemima Sumgong, the 2013 Rotterdam Marathon champ with a personal best 2:23:27.
The American contingent will be led by Stephanie Pezzullo, who was 10th in her debut in Chicago last year (2:32:42), and Melissa White, who set her personal best (2:32:55) here in 2009.
For Sunday's runners, it will be the first major race in the U.S. since the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April.
The Chicago Police Department has increased security, and race organizers have put new procedures in place. For example, runners must pick up their own packets. Organizers will no longer allow individuals to pick up packets on behalf of others. Also only race-day runners will be inside the perimeter of Grant Park, and their gear must be in a clear, plastic event-issued participant bag.
"What is top of mind is the Boston Marathon in April," said Pinkowski. "It was a difficult time for our industry, but our industry is very resilient.
"We have a very comprehensive security plan. I am confident that we will have a safe, secure, memorable race day in Chicago."
For more information, visit www.chicagomarathon.com.