Previews18 Jan 2019

Houston attracts strong half marathon field while Degefa chases third marathon title


Biruktayit Degefa wins the Houston Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)

Once again, organisers have attracted strong fields for the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon, IAAF Silver and Gold Label road races, respectively, on Sunday (20).

The men's half marathon, this year celebrating its 17th edition, features six runners who have broken the event's still formidable one hour barrier, led by Jemal Yimer whose Ethiopian national record of 58:33 in Valencia last fall elevated the 22-year-old to equal third on the all-time list. Despite that accolade, Yimer is still chasing his first victory over the distance.


Jemal Yimer Mekkonen leads an Ethiopian 1-2 finish in the 10,000m at the 2018 African Championships


He'll face Kenya's Bedan Karoki, winner of the last two editions of the fiercely competitive Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon and the silver medallist at the 2016 World Championships. Karoki clocked 58:42 at the RAK Half last year, so arrives in the southeast Texas city tied as the sixth fastest man of all-time.

Others in the field include Ethiopian Shura Kitata, the runner-up at both the London and New York City Marathons last year, who arrives with 59:16 credentials; Kenyan Bernard Kipkorir Ngeno, who clocked 59:22 in last year's world record race in Valencia; 34-year-old El Hassan El Abbassi of Bahrain, who improved to 59:27 last year; and Kenyan Geoffrey Koech, who's clocked 59:50.

On paper, the women's field is even stronger.

The fastest is Fancy Chemutai, whose 1:04:52 lifetime best in Ras Al Khaimah left her just one second shy of Joyciline Jepkosgei's world record. She's also the second fastest ever over 10km at 30:06 --again trailing Jepkosgei-- and in her last outing clocked a fast 30:22 10km in Prague in September.


Fancy Chemutai on her way to winning the RAK Half Marathon


Kenyans Gladys Cherono and Brigid Kosgei also arrive in Houston riding solid momentum. Cherono, 35, won the Berlin Marathon in September and has a 1:06:07 personal best while Kosgei, whose best of 1:06:35 was set in Copenhagen in 2017, won the Chicago Marathon in October.

Meanwhile, Edith Chelimo, with a 1:05:52 career best from 2017, has run even faster than both.

Others to watch include Kenyan Mary Wacera who won here in 2016 in 1:06:29, a North American all-comers record, and Ruti Aga of Ethiopia who turned in a 1:06:39 personal best to win here last year.

 Degefa eyeing third marathon win

The defending champion also returns in the women's marathon. In fact, Biruktayit Degefa, who also won in 2016, will be chasing a third title. The 28-yer-old has competed here the past five years, finishing third in 2015 with a 2:23:51 PB and second in 2017.

The strong Ethiopian contingent includes Muluhabt Tsega, who improved to 2:25:48 in Shanghai last November, Sechale Delasa, who was third here in 2016; and 23-year-old Gebayenesh Ayele, who improved to 2:26:54 last September in Hengsui.

Kenyan hopes lie with Sarah Kiptoo, whose 2:26:32 dates back to 2013 and Gladys Kipsoi, who was fourth here last year in 2:27:32.

Notable debutantes include 19-year-old Meseret Belete, who clocked a 1:07:51 world U20 best in the half marathon in Copenhagen last year.

Abayneh Ayele of Ethiopia is the fastest in the men's field at 2:06:45, clocked in Dubai in 2016. But the 32-year-old struggled last year, recording a season's best of just 2:13:47 in two races over the distance. His 25-year-old compatriot Yitayal Atnafu has shown stronger form, producing back-to-back fourth place finishes at the Paris Marathon the last two years, clocking 2:07:21 in 2017 and improving to 2:07:00 last year.

Three others will bring sub-2:09 bests to the start line: Kenyan Dominic Ondoro, who ran his 2:08:00 lifetime best in 2013; Birhanu Gedefa of Ethiopia, the 2015 Houston winner in 2:08:03, and Kenya's Albert Korir, who improved his personal best to 2:08:17 last March in Otsu.

The forecast is calling for a cool and sunny morning, with temperatures of around 3 C expected at the start. However, winds of up to 15 km/h could make things difficult.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF