Moses Mosop and Liliya Shobukova storm to the win in the Chicago marathon

Disneyland may lie a long way away from Illinois but Claire Hallissey found her own way to wonderland in Chicago as she rode the trend set by a rampant Liliya Shobukova (RUS) up front into a massive PB of 2h29:27, snatching a most unlikely A Olympic qualifier in the marathon and a share in the ‘Big Dream’ of London.

Indeed, hardly even herself would have envisaged such an ending at the far end of the course when she toed the starting-line, with a PB of 2h36:13 from her debut in New York last year; a shot at an Olympic B standard (2h35:00) would make a more realistic target to set her sights on. But like so many times what it takes is for things to click at the right time and take your chances when they come your way. And she did take them so well!

Weighing her pace nicely in ninth midway through, she worked her way through the field and the ‘lower’ (B) qualification region to an eventual sixth, a place higher than her pre-race ranking on paper, and straight up to number three in the UK lists this season. Even more importantly, comfortably inside that A standard of 2h31:00 and right into the shake-up to open the battle for places on the British team to London wider.

In all fairness, she will probably need to run a considerably faster time to make one of the three available spots in the event. Paula Radcliffe should be held a certainty to be named on the respective panel’s first meeting on 5 December following an astonishing recovery of form and a third place in Berlin in 2h23:46, while Jo Pavey could cement her own current second position in New York next month after a debut of 2h28:24 in London last April.

Further, Beijing sixth-placer Mara Yamauchi marked a sound return to action in a winning 32:19 over 10km in Berlin on the same day, setting up nicely for a strong marathon in Yokohama later on, and there is also Louise Damen (2h30:00) involved and returning Olympian Liz Yelling who ran a 72:14 over the half marathon in windy conditions at Peterborough. So Olympic berths won’t be easy to come by.

Nevertheless, selectors ought to leave at least a place open until their second and final meeting on 23 April and as long as Hallissey lies in the mix she can hope. After all, many things can happen and nothing can be ruled out. But at the moment she can allow herself to indulge in the magic of the moment, breathe the air of Olympic A territory and dare to dream.

Back in the race, Shobukova turned even more than equal to her billing as she poured on a relentless pace out in front to surge away to an overwhelming victory in a smashing national record of 2h18:20, moving second fastest woman ever behind Radcliffe, turning the race into a virtual time trial and over as a contest by the third quarter of the distance. But, if anything, she served up a clear warning of her menacing intentions and might have tipped the favourite tag slightly in her favour ahead of the Olympics in summer.

That was, incidentally, her fourth PB in as many marathons over the last two seasons to shape an impressive statistic; starting with a 2h22:00 clocking in London to move on through Chicago, again, in 2h20:25 last year and back to the English capital in 2h20:15 last spring before setting her latest milestone for an awesome streak. So it is going to be intriguing to see whether she can keep the trend going.

Of course, things are far from settled yet as to who is going to be in pole position heading into the Olympics season and everybody will be looking for Mary Keitany‘s response in the Big Apple next month, having showed herself in sizzling form on the road recently. The Kenyan has also got a slight psychological edge as she beat the Russian in London, a further point to her advantage.

Funnily enough, Shobukova isn’t enjoying the best of relationships with London having suffered her only two defeats out of six outings in the marathon there, a stark contrast with Radcliffe who is unbeaten on this ground and will be hoping to turn home advantage to good effect come the Olympics. World champion Edna Kiplagat, currently sidelined with a knee injury, is also a force to be reckoned with.

Ejegayehu Dibaba (ETH) marked a striking debut of 2h22:09 for runner-up a long way behind and will fancy her own chances in London, especially if she takes a minute or two off that time by next summer, and Japan’s Kayoko Fukushi was third in a PB of 2h24:38. The Ethiopian’s time, by the way, offered the third fastest initiation over the distance in history.