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World's Greatest Runners Gathering for Chicago Marathon - 2002-10-11

More than 37,000 runners from 66 countries are competing Sunday in the Chicago Marathon. Among the favorites are the two fastest men's and women's marathon finishers in the world.

Last year Catherine Ndereba of Kenya set a women's world record when she finished the Chicago Marathon in 2:18:27. She also won this marathon in 2000, but is downplaying any talk of a third straight win or new world record. "I am trusting God," she said. "I know that I have done all I am supposed to do. I am hoping to give all to this race. What I can not [give], I just leave to God."

One of Ndereba's toughest challenges could come from Paula Radcliffe of Britain. She ran her first marathon in London earlier this year, and won it in a time just nine seconds behind Ndereba's world record mark. Radcliffe says she would love to win Sunday and set a new record, but realizes that is much easier said than done. "I am not going to say that this is a world record attempt or anything like that," she said. "It is a very strong race, but obviously running in a time like that would be very important. But, winning the race would really cap off this year, because this year has gone so well."

In the men's race, three-time Chicago Marathon winner Khalid Khannouchi returns after taking last year off due to injuries. He set a men's world record while winning this year's London marathon and is looking for a strong finish in Chicago, where he has become a crowd favorite. "In the marathon, it is like a long journey," said Khalid Khannouchi. "You have bad and good times when you run. Sometimes, you pass through a crowd and you just want to cry, you are so emotional. They know your bib number. There is just something incredible about running in Chicago."

Last year, Paul Tergat of Kenya finished second in Chicago. He also came in second in London this year - 10 seconds behind Khannouchi. "No, no, no," he said. "I do not have a lot of pressure, like in my first two marathons. I had a lot of pressure. Now, no. I am ready, I am prepared. I am ready to go at any pace."

The men's race last year in Chicago ended with a surprise with pacesetter Ben Kimondu deciding the finish the course and beating Tergat by four seconds. This year, Kimondu will be wearing the number "1" for the men, and will find it tougher to take anyone by surprise. "It is very challenging to me, because everyone is looking at me as running with the number one race number," he said. "So it is a great challenge for me."

Race director Carey Pinkowski says he was surprised, but not disappointed that a pacesetter won last year's marathon. "Whoever gets there first wins," said Chris Pinkowski. "That is the beauty of this event. There are no judgement calls. It is 26-miles [41 km] of running and that is the beauty of it."

Chicago officials are expecting about a million people to line the 41-kilometer course. This could also be a chillier-than-usual marathon. Forecasters expect the race time temperature to be just a few degrees above zero [Celsius].

All photos by Michael Leland.