The champions are back.

Rabbits are not.

The 39th Bank of America Chicago Marathon will look the same at the front of the race in many ways, but yet also be fundamentally different with no pacesetters (rabbits).

All four champions are expected to be among the leaders again Sunday. The only kink might be the defending men`s champ, Kenyan Dickson Chumba, who had not arrived as of midday Friday for the elite athletes news conference but was en route flying.

Defending women`s champ, Kenyan Florence Kiplagat, is back and healthy.
“This year I get to run better than last year,” she said.

She hopes to run under 2 hours, 22 minutes, a good bit faster than the 2:23:33 she won with last year.

Weather conditions look very good for good times. The forecast has temperatures in the upper 40s at the start, warming to the low 60s for the last finishers midday with only a light south breeze.

The difference this year is having no rabbits on either the men`s or women`s sides for the elite runners.

“I like having no rabbits,” said Luke Puskedra, who last year was the big surprise as an American finishing fifth with a personal best 2:10:24. “I think it makes it competitive. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you focused in the middle of the race.”

Whether he could duplicate his charge of last year, he said, “Hopefully, I can go out and compete. But there are a lot of fast guys in this room [at the elite athlete
conference]. There will be surprises from this room, too.”

Stephen Sambu looks forward to running his first Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Credit: Dale Bowman

Stephen Sambu looks forward to running his first Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
Credit: Dale Bowman

One of the surprises, though many are expecting him to do well, could be Kenyan Stephen Sambu. He will be running his first marathon, but knows Chicago and shorter distances well. He is the defending two-time champion of the 8K Shamrock Shuffle, the annual running start in Chicago, and holds the 8K road world record.

As to why he chose Chicago to stretch out to marathon distance, he said, “The course is flat. Everybody is telling me this is a good place to start because it flat.”

He has a definite time in mind of going under 2:10. Being his first marathon, he was not worried about having no rabbits.

“I will just go with my pace,” Sambu said. “If I get somebody to go with me, it is good.”

In terms of competition, the wheelchair side should be tight once again. Kurt Fearnley, five-time champ in Chicago including last year, is back. But he will not have it easy with Marcel Hug, who finished second last year in Chicago, going for his fifth straight title.

“It will be a very happy day if I finish a meter or two in front of Marcel,” Fearnley said.

On the women`s wheelchair side, Tatyana McFadden is back and riding five straight titles in Chicago (six overall).

As to the buildup to the marathon coming on the same weekend when the Cubs begin their much anticipated playoff run, executive race director Carey Pinkowski said, “The thing about Chicago is that it is so good about having many events. I think they are complimentary for Chicago.”