By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chilly weather and a flat course could encourage Kenya's Olympic champion Sammy Wanjiru to make a world record attempt in Sunday's Chicago marathon.
Those vying for $450,000 in prize money are led by Wanjiru, who smiled when asked about breaking Haile Gebrselassie's record of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 59 seconds set in Berlin in 2008.
"I think I can run a 2:04 or 2:05 but it depends on the weather," Wanjiru told a news conference on Friday.
"Everybody is in the same conditions," said women's champion Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia, who faces a tough challenge from American rival Deena Kastor and Germany's Irina Mikitenko.
The 22-year-old Wanjiru's half-marathon world record of 58 minutes and 33 seconds set over two years ago in the Netherlands could translate to under two hours three minutes over the 26.2 mile marathon distance, based on some formulas.
Wanjiru's best time in his three marathons so far was 11 seconds slower than the record, at 2:05:10, when he triumphed in London in April after finishing second in 2008.
He went on to win Olympic gold in the heat of Beijing.
Berlin has seen the last three world records in the marathon -- the mark has been broken twice in the past two years by Ethiopia's Gebrselassie -- and Chicago's flat course and often cool autumn temperatures have attracted the world's elite.
Chicago has witnessed two men's world records -- Morocco's Khalid Khannouchi in 1999 and Briton Steve Jones in 1984.
Women have also twice set world records here -- Paula Radcliffe in 2002, although the holder cut her time to 2:15.25 the next year in London, and Kenya's Catherine Ndereba in 2001.
Wanjiru was relaxed on his first visit to the United States, joking he might take a 10km training run along Lake Michigan in driving rain to see U.S. President Barack Obama's Chicago home.
"I want to know Obama, please... I want to be like him," Wanjiru said, adding with a laugh "it will be tough" to eclipse Obama's newly-awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
As for the race, Wanjiru said he was fit and ready and did not mind if the course was wet -- a view echoed by rivals Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco and fellow Kenyan Vincent Kipruto.
"The problem is I don't know the course... but the weather isn't any problem for me," Wanjiru said.
Kenyan men have won the Chicago marathon for six years in a row and nine times in all. The top four finishers in 2008 were all from Kenya, led by Evans Cheruiyot who returns to defend his title after earning $140,000 for his time of 2:06:25.
Bonuses are awarded based on race times in addition to the $75,000 men's and women's first-place prizes.
The forecast for when the 45,000 runners set off at 0730 local time (0830 eastern) is for mostly sunny skies with light winds, according to the National Weather Service.
There could be snowflakes although temperatures are expected to climb from overnight lows in the upper 30s Fahrenheit.
In recent years the weather, alternating between summer-like heat and high winds, has not helped the runners but on Sunday it may just prove favorable for a world record attempt.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)