Evans Rutto has found a niche in the marathon.
He is 3 for 3 at the grueling 26.2-mile distance, winning his second straight Chicago Marathon in 2 hours 6 minutes 16 seconds Sunday. It was the second-fastest marathon time in the world this year.
As he approached the finish line, Rutto raised his arms and pumped his fists.
"I was feeling happy," the Kenyan said. "I was happy with the victory, so it's good for me."
Constantina Tomescu-Dita was equally thrilled. The Romanian blistered the women's field, winning her first major marathon in 2:23:45 despite spending the last few days in bed with the flu.
"Yesterday I said, 'I don't know. I'll wait. Maybe I can come in fifth place,' " she said. "So I'm very happy."
Rutto and Tomescu-Dita won $125,000 each.
Rutto ran his first marathon last year in Chicago, finishing in 2:05:50 and setting a record for the fastest debut time. He then ran the London Marathon in April, finishing first in 2:06:18 despite crashing into a barrier on a cold, windy and rainy day.
With a clear, cool day and Chicago's flat, fast course, Rutto hoped to challenge Paul Tergat's world record of 2:04:55, set last year in Berlin. And it looked as if he'd have the chance, with the pacers taking the leaders through the half-marathon in 1:02:18.
Rutto and five others stayed bunched together until the last pacer dropped off, just past Mile 19. Shortly after, Rutto made his move.
Running in the middle of the street and on the left of fellow Kenyan Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, Rutto broke sharply to his right. He crossed in front of Cheruiyot and ran to the edge of the street, putting on such a burst of speed it looked as if Cheruiyot was running in place.
Within a minute, Rutto was almost a block ahead of Cheruiyot. By Mile 20, he had a 23-second lead and there wasn't anyone in sight behind him.
"I thought Evans had raised the pace too much," said Toshinari Takaoka, who finished third. "I couldn't go with him."
Rutto still hoped to challenge Tergat's record, and he was running so easily he looked more like he was out for a Sunday jog than racing the sport's most arduous distance.
"I thought that maybe, maybe," he said about the record.
But he was buffeted by a stiff headwind for the last three miles of the course and couldn't maintain the pace. He ran his last full mile in 5:11 -- 32 seconds slower than his 19th mile.
"It was pushing me back, back," he said. "It was just the wind. Otherwise, I was very strong."
Rutto still finished strong, beating Daniel Njenga of Kenya by almost 90 seconds. Njenga ran 2:07:44 and Takaoka was third in 2:07:50. Former world record holder Khalid Khannouchi, who has been sidelined by injuries since winning Chicago in 2002, was fifth in 2:08:44.
Khannouchi, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has always been a strong finisher. But he was 10 seconds behind the leaders at Mile 16 and could not close the gap. Brian Sell of Utica, N.Y., was the next-fastest American, finishing 11th in 2:13:21.
"Three wins out of three tries, that tells a lot," Khannouchi said of Rutto. "He's really the hottest marathoner right now. I wish I could challenge him, and be in my top game."
Tomescu-Dita didn't think she was going to be anywhere near the top of her game. She ran the world half-marathon championships in New Delhi last Sunday and finished third in 1:09:07. But Tomescu-Dita couldn't get a flight out until Tuesday and spent the rest of the week ill in Chicago.