Chicago - Ethiopia's three-time Olympic gold medallist Kenenisa Bekele will take on a formidable Kenyan challenge spearheaded by Eliud Kipchoge in Sunday's Chicago Marathon, with a course record in their sights.
Kenyan Dennis Kimetto set the Chicago Marathon record of 2hrs 03.45sec in winning last year, but he won't be back to defend his title after a scintillating performance in last month's Berlin Marathon, where his world record time of 2:02.57 made him the first person to break 2:03 over 26.2 miles.
Even without Kimetto the men's elite field boasts plenty of firepower, with five entrants who have run under 2:06.
That includes Bekele, the 5,000m and 10,000m world record-holder who made his marathon debut in Paris in April and blitzed the field in 2:05:04.
Kipchoge is another track to road convert and has three impressive marathon times on his resume, including a 2:04.05 which is the fastest personal best of anyone in the field.
Bekele has got the better of the Kenyan in a majority of their on-track duels, but Kipchoge's greater marathon experience and his success at translating his sub-12:50 5,000m speed to the marathon distance could give him the edge on the streets of Chicago.
Kipchoge has made no secret of the fact that the marathon world record is something he'd like to achieve, but he says he won't be putting pressure on himself to achieve the aim just yet.
"It is something we are not dwelling on so much since this is my fourth marathon," he said. "It is also my first time in the USA."
Kipchoge is joined in the field by fellow Kenyans Sammy Kitawara -- running in Chicago for the third time -- Dickson Chumba and Bernard Koech, who was runner-up to Kipchoge in Rotterdam this year.
Ethiopia's Tadese Tola -- with a personal best of 2:04:49 -- and Feyisa Lilesa (2:04:52) add further depth to the field.
Tola has reportedly been training hard since a runner-up finish in Tokyo in February and a victory in the Orlen Warsaw Marathon in April.- Rita Jeptoo eyes repeat -
On the Women's side, Kenya's Rita Jeptoo returns to defend her title, hoping to add it to the Boston Marathon crown she captured in April with a course record of 2:18:57.
That was a second faster than the 2:19:57 she produced in winning in Chicago last year.
Now Jeptoo could become only the third woman in marathon history to have three sub-2:20 marathons -- a feat not seen since former Chicago champions and world record-holders Paula Radcliffe of Britain and Catherine Ndereba of Kenya exchanged world records at London and Chicago in 2002 and 2003.
Right behind Jeptoo will be pushed fellow Kenyan and training partner Jemima Jelagat Sumgong, who finished second last year.
Kenya's Florence Kiplagat, the half-marathon world record-holder, says she's out to improve on her personal best of 2:19:44.
But Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba, a 2012 Olympian and the third-placed finisher in Boston, will be out to thwart a Kenyan sweep.