CHICAGO (AP) — Kenyan Wesley Korir figures to have one eye on the finish line and the other on the cause when he competes in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.
As sweet as winning a major marathon would be, he’ll be running for something even bigger.
Korir is trying to complete a hospital in his poverty-stricken village so people back home might not have to experience the sort of loss his family suffered when his younger brother Nicholas died from a snake bite.
“I just wish even part of what we have here could be in Kenya,” he said, “because people suffer a lot.”
Korir is helping to pay for the facility, and with $100,000 going to the marathon winners plus potential performance bonuses, there’s quite a bit for the taking in this one.
There’s also a strong field that includes countryman Moses Mosop, one of the favorites, and top American Ryan Hall along with two-time New York City Marathon winner Marilson Gomes Dos Santos and former Chicago champion Evans Cheruiyot.
On the women’s side, Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova is trying to become the first three-peat champion — male or female — in Chicago and nail down a spot on the Olympic team. Her country’s federation will select its team based on the two fastest times posted by runners between Sept. 1 and the end of the year, and the flat course in Chicago could play in her favor.
“All this is making my huge basket of goals. The Olympic Games, it’s something (I’ve) been dreaming of since (I’ve) been a kid athlete,” Shobukhova, who placed sixth at Beijing and 13th at Athens in the 5,000 meters, said Friday through an interpreter. “To win a third in a row here in Chicago, it’s a privilege and exciting to do something that nobody has ever done.”
Mosop comes into the men’s race after a string of impressive performances but he said he’s still a bit hobbled by pain in his left Achilles tendon.
Even so, he still hopes to break the course record of 2 hours, 5 minutes, 41 seconds set by the late Sammy Wanjiru in 2009, when he won the first of two straight Chicago Marathons.
Mosop ran the second-fastest 26.2 miles in history at the Boston Marathon this year but finished behind fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai in 2:03:06, with a tailwind on the substantially downhill course. He set a world record in the 30,000 meters at the Prefontaine Classic in June, but his Achilles issue kept him from training in July.
Korir, a two-time winner of the Los Angeles Marathon, would love nothing more than to capture his first major victory in Chicago.
He made an impressive marathon debut here in 2008, when he started five minutes behind the elite runners and wound up with the day’s fourth-fastest time. He placed sixth the following year, fourth in Chicago in 2010, and he comes in this time eyeing some big goals on and off the course.
Korir, who attended Louisville and still lives there, is trying to give back to his village of Kitale in a big way, hoping to provide the sort of care that might have saved his 10-year-old brother after a black mamba bit him.
His family didn’t have a car. There were no ambulances. His mom and uncle had to wait for a bus and Nicholas died on the way to the clinic more than 20 miles away.
The village started building the hospital about five years ago, but there wasn’t enough money to finish it and the project was abandoned, Korir said. He decided to revive it, and with the help of Hall, has raised about $13,000 of the $30,000 he needs.
“I’ve been feeling a call to take up that project, and then I talked to Ryan about it,” he said. “We took it over and now, I think it’s going to be done pretty soon. I’m excited about it.”
The dollar goes a long way in Kenya and, over time, he envisions expanding. He sees it eventually becoming a major hospital.
He plans to work with the government and attract volunteer doctors from other countries, along with the five he figures to have full-time on staff.
“When I went to Kenya last year, I decided to visit hospitals run by the government and hospitals run by private people,” Korir said. “Just comparing the hospitals we have here, it’s desperate. It’s miserable. You go there, the corruption is very high. People don’t care about people.
“I went with my wife and we looked and said, ‘We want to make an example using this hospital, to show people in Kenya that if people give their time and if people really care about other people, we can give the best health care that we can ever imagine.’”