Kenya's Cheruiyot captures Chicago Marathon in his race debut

CHICAGO -- Kenya's Evans Cheruiyot won his second marathon in two tries, pulling away late from countryman David Mandago before finishing in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 25 seconds to win the Chicago Marathon on a warm Sunday morning.

A winner at Milan in December, the 26-year-old Cheruiyot grabbed the lead in the 24th mile and was all alone as he crossed the finish line for his first major marathon victory. Mandago clocked in at 2:07:37 in his first major marathon, with fellow Kenyan Timothy Cherigat third at 2:11:39.

It was a good day for Russia's Lidiya Grigoryeva, too.

The 2007 Boston Marathon champion breezed to her second major victory, clocking in at 2:27:17 and finishing more than two minutes ahead of runner-up Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia (2:29:32). Japan's Kiyoko Shimahara (2:30:19) was third, and Olympic gold medalist Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania (2:30:57) took fourth. Two-time defending champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia (2:34:16) placed 10th.

The field featured 33,033 runners, with $100,000 going to the winners.

"I'm very happy," Cheruiyot said.

Three years ago, that wasn't the case.

Cheruiyot and 14 other runners claimed they were left stranded in France with no money, food or shelter after competing in several races because their manager did not pay them.

The Kenyan embassy rescued them and Cheruiyot went home in January 2006.

He'll leave Chicago with more money and a wide smile after another sweltering marathon.

Last year, with heavy humidity and temperatures soaring into the high 80s, the race was stopped after about four hours. Organizers were accused of not supplying enough water. A 35-year-old man died -- although coroners blamed it on a heart condition and said tests showed no evidence he was dehydrated -- and 184 people were taken to hospitals, according to race spokeswoman Marianne Caponi.

Even though the weather was far from ideal this time, with the temperature climbing from 65 at the start to the high 70s while the elite runners were still on the course before reaching 84 late in the morning, the ambulances weren't as busy this time. Only 76 runners had gone to the hospital as of late Sunday afternoon.

Despite the harsh conditions, Cheruiyot managed to set a quick pace and appeared to be in good shape as he crossed the finish line.

He was in the lead pack with Mandago and fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai as they headed south back through downtown and the West Loop midway through the race. Mutai, who finished fourth at London in April, dropped off in the 18th mile. Mandago momentarily took the lead but mostly ran alongside Cheruiyot before the heat caught up to him.

While Mandago faded on the 24th mile, Cheruiyot made his move as they headed up Michigan Avenue toward the finish line and became the sixth straight Kenyan to win in Chicago.

"Mandago was not strong at that time," Cheruiyot said. "But me, I was pushing my best. ... Mandago was coming slow, but me, I just pushed."

The women's race followed a similar pattern, with Grigoryeva and Biktimirova jumping ahead midway through and Grigoryeva putting her away in the latter stages.

"The hot weather played well for me today because the race starts slowly, develops slowly," Grigoryeva said through an interpreter. "I was very confident in my speed."

Tomescu-Dita and Adere fell out of contention early on.

Dressed in gold just seven weeks after she became the oldest woman to win an Olympic medal, the 38-year-old Tomescu-Dita could not deliver another big performance.

The winner here in 2004 and runner-up in 2003 and 2005, a leg injury sidelined her for four months last year and prevented her from running in Chicago after she finished fifth in 2006. She also divorced her husband, who is also her coach, this year, but the emotional and physical pain didn't stop her from becoming the oldest woman to win an Olympic marathon medal.

Running her fourth marathon in 8½ months, she stayed with the leaders for the first half but could not make up ground after Grigoryeva and Biktimirova pulled ahead.

"They dropped very fast," said Grigoryeva, who plans to donate part of her winnings to a Russian orthodox church and children's hospital back home. "It was a very big surprise that nobody came with us."