For the first time, America’s top wheelchair athletes will race on the streets of Chicago for an opportunity to make the U.S. Paralympic Team competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The Bank of America Chicago Marathon will serve as the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 11 with the top two U.S. male and female finishers making the trip to Brazil provided they have met all of the qualification standards.
Chicago will set the stage for an Illini showdown as at least eight of the elite marathoners are a part of the prestigious University of Illinois wheelchair racing team. Six athletes, including Paralympians Raymond Martin and Shirley Reilly, will be making a tight transition post-race to compete at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar taking place October 22-31.
To earn the qualification slots, the athletes must have met the national "A" team standard in an event, have hit the required standard in the marathon event and have a valid IPC license.
Will Tatyana McFadden and Josh George be crowned champions again after wins in 2014? Will someone challenge the illustrious Illini for the top four sports potentially going to Rio? Will McFadden inch closer to an unprecedented third marathon grand slam? Read more below about the top U.S. athletes to follow on October 11 and find live race day results at chicagomarathon.com.
Here's a look at who to watch in Chicago:
MenAdam Bleakney | Savoy, Illinois
A four-time U.S. Paralympian and Paralympic silver medalist in the 800-meter, Bleakney is the veteran member of the pack after venturing into wheelchair racing in 1996, just nine months after his spinal cord injury. Six months later, he competed in his first Chicago Marathon and will return 19 years later with hopes of qualifying for Rio. As head coach for the University of Illinois wheelchair track and field program, Bleakney will have to beat several of his athletes in Chicago for the top men’s spot.
Josh George | Herndon, Virginia
A three-time Paralympian, George is the defending Chicago Marathon men’s wheelchair racing champion, taking back his title after an eight-year dry spell. With the men’s time standard already met, he has his sights set on a fifth title in Chicago and a ticket to Rio. George is in top form going into the marathon after winning his first marathon world title and London Marathon victory in April for the men’s T53/54 classification.
Aaron Pike | Park Rapids, Minnesota
A two-time Paralympian in track and field and Nordic skiing, Pike was the closest U.S. competitor to George in the 2014 Chicago Marathon with a seventh-place finish (1:32:19) and has the experience to challenge him again. His personal best is 1:22, which helped him to qualify for the marathon at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Pike has already hit the standard time needed in 2015.
Brian Siemann | Savoy, Illinois
The 2012 Paralympian has been among the seasoned group of U.S. wheelchair racers with a career spanning 11 years, including competing in six Boston Marathons. Siemann has had a strong year with national titles in the 100-, 400- and 800-meter T53 races and has already met the national “A” team standard in 2015. In June, he had the best 800 race of his career as he finished second to George at the Daniela Jutzeler Memorial race in in Switzerland as both men bettered the previous world record.
WomenTatyana McFadden | Clarksville, Maryland
The queen of wheelchair racing is looking to capture her fifth-consecutive Chicago Marathon crown to secure a spot on the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team. The 10-time Paralympic track and field medalist broke the finish tape at last year’s marathon in 1:44:50. McFadden already has a marathon world title in her arsenal after hitting the “A” standard in April’s London Marathon with a time of 1:41:14. Chicago could also bring McFadden one race closer to an incredible third straight wheelchair marathon grand slam with only the New York City Marathon remaining in November.
Amanda McGrory | Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
McGrory is a 2008 Paralympic silver medalist in the women’s marathon and took fourth in the event at the 2012 Games. A two-time world champion in the 800-meter, she was the closest U.S. competitor to McFadden in the 2014 Chicago Marathon, taking the third spot with a time of 1:45:55. McGrory, who has already hit the qualifying time in 2015, took the Chicago Marathon crown in 2010 and tallied wins in the New York City and Paris Marathons.
Shirley Reilly | Tucson, Arizona
Reilly is the defending Paralympic champion in the women’s marathon and one of the top contenders to challenge McFadden for the female crown. The three-time Paralympian won the 2011 and 2012 Los Angeles Marathon as well as the 2012 Boston Marathon. Most recently, Reilly won two silver medals at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games in the women’s T53 400 and 800. Reilly has already met the national “A” team standard.
Susannah Scaroni | Tekoa, Washington
Scaroni placed eighth in the women’s marathon at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Since then, she has finished in the top five of several notable races, including wins in the Los Angeles Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon in 2013. Most recently, she took third behind McFadden and Chelsea McClammer in the 2015 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. She has already hit the qualifying standard in 2015.
Other notable U.S. athletes who will push the pace in Chicago include four-time Paralympic gold medalist Raymond Martin (Jersey City, New Jersey), paratriathlon world champion Kendall Gretsch (Madison, Wisconsin) and Parapan Am champion Daniel Romanchuk (Mount Airy, Maryland).