CHICAGO – Just a few years ago, Dennis Kimetto was a farmer, tending corn and cattle in Kenya. Now, he's shattering marathon records.
Six weeks removed from a bout of malaria, Kimetto broke the course mark Sunday in capturing the Chicago Marathon. Compatriot Rita Jeptoo was the women's winner in the first major marathon in the United States since the Boston bombings.
Kimetto finished in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 45 seconds, leading a 1-2-3 finish for Kenyan men. He beat the mark of 2:04:38 set by Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede last year. He pulled away from Emannuel Mutai over the last few miles and was alone with both arms raised as he crossed the line.
It was his second major victory this year to go with a win at Tokyo in February — not bad for someone who not long ago was working the land in the west Kenyan town of Eldoret.
He said through an interpreter that he had been running on his own when he had a chance meeting with Geoffrey Mutai, a star marathoner and fellow Kenyan. Mutai asked Kimetto to join his camp near Eldoret and train with him.
Kimetto finished second in his marathon debut in Berlin last year, won Tokyo and added to his status as one of the world's best on Sunday.
Before the race, there was a 30-second moment of silence to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Mutai (2:03:52), the 2011 London winner, also beat Kebede's time but finished seven seconds off the lead. Sammy Kitwara (2:05:16) was third.
Jeptoo followed her victory at Boston by easily taking her race, finishing in 2:19:57 after losing in a sprint a year ago. There was no one near Jeptoo as she turned into Grant Park, wearing a wide grin and waving to the crowd.
Jemima Sumgong Jelegat of Kenya (2:20:48) was second, followed by Maria Konovalova of Russia (2:22:46).
The winners each earned $100,000. Kimetto gets an additional $75,000 for the course record, while Jeptoo gets another $40,000 for finishing under 2:20:00.
On a sunny day and with conditions ideal, the race drew a Chicago Marathon-record 40,230 runners. But there was a different feel to this event in the aftermath of Boston, where the bombings killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
"It's a testimony to what the marathon is about and what the people who participate in the marathon are about," executive race director Carey Pinkowski said. "They're dedicated and focused and committed. The marathon's a celebration of humanity. This is an example of that."
Police promised heightened security. More than a thousand uniformed and undercover officers as well as bomb-sniffing dogs were to mix with the crowd along a course winding through 29 neighborhoods. Officers inside a command post monitored pictures from helicopters and the city's 22,000 cameras, the most extensive surveillance system in the nation.
The Department of Homeland Security designated the marathon a "level two" event, a notch below massive gatherings such as the Super Bowl. That meant more federal agents with high-tech monitoring equipment.
Runners could use only clear plastic bags issued by organizers to store their belongings near the finish line. They had to pick up their own packets, with race bibs and tracking devices, rather than friends or family.
"I thought everything went really, really smooth," Pinkowski said. "I think the key to that was the messaging to our participants, to our volunteers. We asked our participants to get there a little bit earlier."
Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won the men's wheelchair division race in 1:30:37. Tatyana McFadden of Champaign, Ill., won the women's division in a course record 1:42:35.
McFadden, who also won the Boston and London marathons this year, will attempt a Grand Slam in wheelchair racing at the New York City Marathon next month.
Kimetto and Mutai started to surge ahead around the 19th mile, only to have fellow Kenyans Sammy Kitwara and Micah Kogo stay with them. Those two faded after the group passed through Chinatown.
The gap between Kimetto and Mutai started to widen after Mutai missed his bottle at a water station around the 24-mile mark, although Mutai said that was a not an issue. Kimetto wasn't aware it happened.
Either way, he took control over the last few miles. The world record of 2:03:23 was in sight, set by Wilson Kipsang of Kenya in Berlin two weeks ago. But Kimetto had to settle for the course mark.
Jeptoo had an easier finish. Last year, she traded leads with Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia down the stretch and lost a step. Six months later, Jeptoo won her second Boston Marathon, a victory overshadowed by tragedy.
This time, she had a big smile and waved to the crowd on her way to the finish.
"In 2006, I won in Boston and after that, I (did not) do well," Jeptoo said. "Last year and this year, I'm really doing well. When I ran Boston again, I saw my dream is coming. This is my happiness."