Abel Kirui was at risk of being the forgotten man of elite marathon running until he won the 2016 Chicago Marathon title.
The Kenyan, who made his name when he won the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, had risen to be a force over the ultimate distance, defending his crown at the 2011 worlds in Daegu before winning silver at the London 2012 Olympics.
However, injury and loss of form combined to push him off the radar of elite marathon running until Oct. 9, 2016 when in brutal duel with compatriot and title-holder over the final kilometers, Dickson Chumba, Kirui prevailed in Chicago in 2:11:13.
That epic victory saw him fulfil a long held desire to finally crack America with the added bonus of winning his first world marathon majors title.
Last year, the 36-year-old to lose his title to American distance running star, Galen Rupp (2:09:20), with Kirui finishing second 30 seconds in arrears and ahead of the 2018 edition on Oct. 7, the Kenyan expressed his eagerness to reclaim his Chicago crown.
“I’d been to New York and had no luck and that’s when I said to my then coach (Renato Canova) I want to try my luck in Chicago.
“I remember it was a great fight between me and Dickson. The last 2km was not easy but I remember crossing the line in front and dancing beautifully. It was fun. That day brings back many happy memories,” he recalled.
In his third appearance at the “Windy City” Kirui is confident he will be right in the mix for the men’s title.
“I never feel any pressure in Chicago and I have so many friends here. I have had no injuries, which was totally different to last year, and I am very much hoping to be in the fight,” he added.
Since he was a young boy growing up in Nandi County in the North Rift of Kenya, the USA has always held a fascination for Kirui – one of more idiosyncratic and charismatic members of the NN Running Team.
Making his marathon debut some 12 years ago in Berlin – when he placed ninth in 2:17:47 – the gregarious athlete has since chiselled out an outstanding career over the 42.2km distance.
Claiming second in the 2007 Berlin Marathon and a winner of the 2008 Vienna Marathon he quickly established a proud marathon reputation.
Yet his breakthrough performance came at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin when he destroyed the field to win in a championship record 2:06:54 and marked the moment by breaking into his trademark celebratory post-race jig of joy.
In 2010 he traveled to the New York City Marathon to make his competitive debut in the US but the tall, slender Kenyan had to settle for a distant eighth – almost five minutes down on race winner Gebregziabher Gebremariam of Ethiopia.
More success followed for Kirui. In 2011 he retained his world marathon title in Daegu by a record victory margin of 2:28 from compatriot and NN Running Team colleague Vincent Kipruto.
In 2012 Kirui added the Olympic silver medal to his collection behind the NN Running Team’s Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda but the stone in his shoe was his lack of success and profile in the US – in 2016 he set about rectifying this fact.
In 2016, Abel, who was hunting his first marathon victory since his second world title five years earlier, finally delivered his American dream.