2023 Chicago Marathon Preview: Sisson vs. Bates; Kiptum Chases The WR

By David Melly

October 3, 2023

On Sunday, October 8, the penultimate World Marathon Major of 2023 kicks off through Millennium Park and through the streets of Chicago. The site of multiple American and world records, the Chicago Marathon is often considered one of the fastest courses in the United States and always draws strong domestic and international elite fields chasing fast times. Last year, the women’s race saw an American record from Emily Sisson and the second-fastest performance of all time (at the time) from winner Ruth Chepngetich. Chicago’s men’s course record of 2:03:45 was the world record when it was set in 2013 by Dennis Kimetto and the women’s course record of 2:14:04 set by Brigid Kosgei in 2019 was the world record until a few weeks ago – this is the place to run fast.

The first wave of runners goes off at 8:30 a.m. E.T. (men and women start together). Right now, the forecast looks promising, with a low of 46F and a high of 57F. It’ll be a little breezy with 10-15mph winds, but the looped Chicago course lined in many spots by high rises is relatively tolerant to wind. We could be in for some seriously special racing!

How To Watch:

NBC Chicago will show the race live locally and online from 8am-12pm E.T., and the race can be streamed on the NBC Peacock app with a subscription. Full info on how to watch can be found here.

Race results information can be found here and live tracking is available on the Bank of America Chicago Marathon app.

Ruth ChepngetichRuth Chepngetich

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Ruth Chepngetich Goes For The Threepeat

Betting against Ruth Chepngetich in Chicago is a tough sell. The 2021 and 2022 champ absolutely dominated her competition in both races, winning by 1:49 in 2021 and 4:11 in 2022, and her PB of 2:14:18 from the latter race puts her at #3 on the all-time list. She’s also #3 on the half marathon all-time list, and none of the women ahead of her at either distance will be in Chicago.

For Chepngetich, the last three seasons of marathoning have ended one way or another: in a victory or a DNF. In that period, she’s won Chicago twice and the Nagoya Women’s Marathon twice, while dropping out of the Olympic marathon and the World Championships marathon in the same period. With her 2:18:08 victory in Nagoya this year, she’s on track to repeat her pattern, but she “only” ran 66:18 for third in her tuneup half in August, and the woman who won that race, Abadel Yesheneh, is running Chicago too. Yesheneh has never won a World major, but she’s finished 4th (Boston 2023), 2nd (Boston 2022), 3rd (New York 2021), and 2nd (Chicago 2019) in her last four attempts so she’s consistent.

Another big threat to Chepngetich may be Jocyline Jepkosgei, who’s won New York and London but only finished 12th in Boston this past spring. A late addition, Megertu Alemu, was added to the elite field in September, and she turned heads by her ability to hang with a hugely stacked field in London this spring, finishing 2nd ahead of studs like Peres Jepchirchir and Yalemzerf Yehualaw. And that’s not even getting into some of the most intriguing names on the list, which we’ll cover more below.

Kelvin KiptumKelvin Kiptum

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Sky-High Expectations Set For Kelvin Kiptum

Even after Eliud Kipchoge suffered a rare loss at the 2023 Boston Marathon, it was hard to fathom the idea that the world record holder may not be the best marathoner in the world in 2023… until one week later, when Kelvin Kiptum produced one of the most stunning performances in history, winning the London Marathon in 2:01:25.

It wasn’t just that Kiptum won the race in the second fastest mark of all time. It wasn’t just that Kiptum had run sub-2:02 twice in 5 months after making the fastest marathon debut in history in Valencia the previous December. And it wasn’t just that Kiptum is officially only 23 years old. Kiptum won in London by closing the second half of his race in an astonishing 59:45, the fastest second half of a marathon in history, with no competition to push him. When Kipchoge ran 2:01:09 to break his own world record in Berlin in 2022, no one thought that anyone would take down that mark any time soon – unless, of course, Kipchoge broke it himself. But only one year later, Kiptum appears to be the heir apparent in the Kenyan marathon ranks and seems to have no desire to wait his turn.

Kiptum has raced exactly once this year so it’s hard to judge his fitness beyond his stellar London performance, but if he shows up healthy and fit he’ll be nearly impossible to beat. If someone does, it might be 2022 champ Benson Kipruto, who also won Boston in 2021 and finished 3rd in Boston this past spring, or 2021 champ Seifu Tura, who also finished 2nd in Chicago last year and 6th in London this past spring. Another strong contender overdue for a big win is Bashir Abdi, who has two World/Olympic medals, two podium finishes in World Marathon Majors, and two wins (2021 and 2023) at the Rotterdam Marathon but has yet to pick up a wreath on the biggest stages.

Sifan HassanSifan Hassan

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Track Stars Hit The Roads (Again)

It’s a bit funny that two of the fastest milers of the last decade are facing off for the first time in years on the streets of Chicago. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba and Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan have had plenty of memorable battles over the years: they’ve combined for 12 World/Olympic medals between 2015 and 2023, and Dibaba was the world record holder at 1500m from 2015 until Faith Kipyegon broke her mark this year. Together with 2023 Boston marathon champ Hellen Obiri, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana, and 10,000m world record holder Letesenbet Gidey, Dibaba and Hassan were part of a crop of talented distance runners from the 2010s that everyone was hoping would smash their marathon debuts when they finally moved up.

Dibaba started well, with a 2:18:02 debut for 2nd in Amsterdam last year, but she DNFed her sophomore performance at London this past spring. She did run 65:46 earlier this spring in her London buildup, but she hasn’t raced since that marathon attempt, so health may be a question.

Hassan, on the other hand, has defied every expectation of how an athlete is supposed to transition to the marathon. Her debut in London was full of issues, with Hassan experiencing trouble fueling and having to stop to stretch her quad. In the later miles of the race, she even narrowly missed getting hit by a motorbike trying to pick up a water bottle. Oh yeah, and she won in 2:18:33. Then five weeks later she was back on the track racing a 10,000m and 1500m, kept her season going into August, attempted to triple in the 1500m/5000m/10,000m in Budapest, and came out with two medals, all while in the middle of her buildup for Chicago. If, by some miracle, that effort hasn’t completely burnt her legs out from under her, she has to be considered one of the biggest – if not the biggest – threat to Chepngetich’s attempted title defense.

Leonard KorirLeonard Korir

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

American Men Chase Olympic Qualifiers

There are still zero American men with Olympic qualifiers following a tough day for Americans Scott Fauble and Teshome Mekonen in Berlin. If the weather doesn’t cooperate or race plans don’t pan out in Chicago, Team USA has a chance of heading into the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials not knowing how many – if any – spots on the starting line in Paris the men will have.

The good news? The U.S. pro field assembled for this weekend could potentially knock out all qualifying marks for all three spots in one go. The Olympic standard in the marathon is 2:08:10, and three entrants: Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56), and Conner Mantz (2:08:16) have personal bests around that time. Rupp and Korir have run faster, but their PBs are a little dustier – Rupp’s comes from 2018 and Korir’s from 2019, and at 37 and 36 years old, respectively, there’s no guarantee that their best days aren’t behind them. Mantz, on the other hand, is 26 years old, and his PB comes from this race last year, his debut at the distance.

I tend to bet on experience, but Rupp is a big question mark with only one race under his belt this year, a 17th-place finish at the 2023 NYC Half. Korir has raced a ton, including a solid 2:09:31 marathon performance in Paris and a national title at 25k, but he’s also had some clunkers in the mix. His most recent result was a 6th-place finish at the New Haven 20k over Labor Day weekend, nothing to write home about but potentially just the sign of tired legs in heavy training. Mantz finished 2nd at that same race, a step behind training partner Clayton Young, but he only finished 11th in his Boston Marathon debut this past spring.

All in all, the capacity for three American sub-2:08s in one race – something that’s only happened 11 times in history and never multiple times in the same race – is there, but everything has to go right for everyone. Even two sub-2:08s would be historic, and Mantz becoming the 6th American man to do it in his third marathon would be impressive. Olympic implications aside, American road running fans will have plenty to root for.

Emily SissonEmily Sisson

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Emily Sisson Chases Herself

Despite standing 5-foot-2, Emily Sisson has begun to cast an enormous shadow. The American record holder in the marathon and half marathon is the woman to beat in pretty much any domestic road-race setting, and even when facing down talented rivals like Keira D’Amato, Sara Hall, and former training partner Molly Huddle, she races like a stone-cold killer.

Coming off a 2nd-place national-record-setting performance in Chicago last year, the pressure will be on for Sisson to replicate both a podium finish and a historic time for the second year in a row. There’s no indication to suggest that she doesn’t have it in her, with a recent victory at the New Haven 20k and a couple of strong 10k performances on the road earlier this summer. At this point, times shouldn’t be as important to Sisson as racing up against the talented field: repeating her runner-up finish would be a huge accomplishment against competition that is inarguably much stronger than 2022. Even just a top-5 finish against the likes of Chepngetich, Hassan, Dibaba, and more would be a sign she could contend for a medal in Paris.

And she has to make the team first. It’s easy to forget that her record-setting performance in Chicago was only the second marathon she’s completed, with a DNF at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials and a withdrawal from New York in 2021 due to injury. A comfortable and consistent third marathon result would solidify her as one of the top names to watch headed into 2024 Trials, but it’s tough to say even the American record holder is a lock for a spot.

Emma BatesEmma Bates

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

U.S. Olympic Team Hopefuls Make The Case

A big part of the reason why someone like Emily Sisson isn’t a lock for an Olympic spot is the quality of the marathoners on the line next to her. U.S. Olympians Molly Seidel and Des Linden are slated to run, and Linden is running her first marathon as a master after turning 40 in July. And the most proven commodity in Chicago has to be Emma Bates, who finished 4th in 2019 and 2nd in 2021 and has never finished lower than 8th in a marathon.

Initially, Aliphine Tuliamuk and Nell Rojas were on the start list, but both have withdrawn for injury precautions. With the 2024 Olympic Trials only four months away, it’s not entirely surprising to see potential contenders playing it safe if they already have the qualifying standard in hand.

Bates has made quite the routine out of top-10 finishes in World Marathon Majors, and as such her 2:22:10 PB probably doesn’t quite reflect just how good she is. If she can execute a strong race in good conditions here, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see her knocking on the door of 2:20. (Editor’s Note: Bates has not been shy about voicing her belief that she could even attack the American record.)

Seidel is a bit of a bigger question mark: since her stellar 2021 (winning a bronze medal at the Olympics and finishing 4th in NYC three months apart), she’s had a whole host of physical and mental health challenges to overcome. A strong and complete 26 miles here would be a good stepping stone headed into Orlando for Seidel, who hasn’t finished a marathon in nearly two years.

On the men’s side, there are some interesting dark horse contenders. A top-10 finish and/or sub-2:10 here would at least insert their names into the conversation for a spot on the Olympic team. Matt McDonald of the BAA has been a picture of consistency the last few years, finishing 14th (Boston 2022), 12th (Chicago 2022), and 10th (Boston 2023) in his last three marathons in an average time of 2:10:13. Clayton Young hasn’t quite broken through at the marathon distance yet, but he’s run 61:18 in the half and won two off-distance U.S. road championships this year over 8k and 20k. And there were two fun late additions to the field with plenty of experience: Sam Chelanga, who’s got some of the best track PBs in the field but has never quite mastered the marathon, and Daniel Mesfun, who represented Eritrea until this past May and now has U.S. citizenship. Mesfun’s 2:10:06 PB dates back to 2018, but he was only 16 seconds behind Young and Mantz in New Haven, finishing 4th.

With Sisson and the trio of Rupp, Mantz, and Korir in the race, top American honors will be hard to claim on both sides, but a shuffling of PBs and placings in Chicago could make the Olympic Trials conversation very complicated in a few short months.

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.