Birhanu Gedefa on his way to victory at the Houston Marathon (Victah Sailer / organisers) © Copyright
Preview Houston, USA

Another Ethiopian double looks likely in Houston

Ethiopian athletes have won both the men’s and women’s races at the past seven editions of the Chevron Houston Marathon; a trend that looks set to continue at the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race on 17 January.

Birhanu Gedefa and Bazu Worku, who between them have won the past three Houston titles, lead the men’s field.

Gedefa was something of a surprise winner last year, clawing back a 14-second deficit in the last couple of miles to win in a lifetime best of 2:08:03. But the rest of his 2015 campaign wasn’t quite as successful. He finished fifth over 10km in Toronto in April and at the Beijing Marathon in September.

Fellow Ethiopian Worku, winner of the Houston Marathon in 2014 and 2013, owns the fastest PB of the field. The 25-year-old clocked 2:05:25 when finishing third in Berlin in 2010, while his fastest time in Houston came when he successfully defended his title in 2014, running 2:07:32.

He will be aiming to become just the third man in the 44-year history of the race to win three times in Houston.

Girmay Birhanu also stands a good chance of maintaining the Ethiopian dominance in Houston. He finished two places behind Worku at last year’s Dubai Marathon, but went on to have a more successful season than his compatriot. He won in Daegu with 2:07:26 and then in Ottawa in 2:08:14 before ending his season with a fourth-place finish at the Chicago Marathon.

His best of 2:05:49, set at the 2014 Dubai Marathon, makes him one of just two men in the field with a PB faster than the course record of 2:06:51, set by Tariku Jufar in 2012.

After finishing fifth in 2014 and fourth in 2015, Kenya’s Dominic Ondoro will look to at least make the podium this time, and perhaps even break the seven-year winning streak by Ethiopian athletes in Houston. The 27-year-old has a PB of 2:08:00, set when winning the 2013 Tibeiras Marathon.

Poland’s Artur Kozlowski leads the European challenge, while Ethiopia’s Yitayal Atnafu is one of a handful of debutants who could spring a surprise.

Shone’s chance to shine

Although 2015 winner Yebrqual Melese won’t defend her title, three of the top-four finishers from last year will return to Houston.

Guteni Shone smashed her PB by seven minutes to take second place in 2:23:32 in Houston last year, just nine seconds behind the winner. Three months later, the 24-year-old comfortably won the Seoul Marathon in 2:26:22.

If she sets out at a similar pace to last year, Shone could even challenge the course record of 2:23:14, set by Alemitu Abera in 2012.

Compatriot Biruktayit Eshetu Degefa will also be returning to Houston. She finished fourth in 2014 and third in 2015, setting personal bests on both occasions. If she continues that trend on Sunday, she will be a serious contender for victory.

Sechale Dalasa, who finished fourth in 2015, is also aiming to do better than last year. A 2:26:27 runner at best, she is yet to win a marathon, but her best finishes to date have all been in North American races.

Australia’s Lisa Weightman will be contesting her first marathon for more than two years. She set her PB of 2:26:05 in her most recent race over the classic distance, the 2013 Melbourne Marathon.

Dibaba to make first post-Beijing appearance

In the Aramco Houston Half Marathon held on the same day, Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba will be contesting her first race since winning the marathon at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. The Ethiopian has a PB of 1:07:13, which is more than a minute faster than the course record of 1:08:26 set in 2012 by Belaynesh Oljira.

World half-marathon silver medallist Mary Wacera and fellow Kenyan Cynthia Limo, the fastest woman in the field with a PB of 1:07:02 are also entered. Buzunesh Deba, the 2014 Boston Marathon runner-up, will be contesting her first half marathon in Houston, having finished second in the marathon in 2013.

Lelisa Desisa leads the men’s field. The Boston Marathon champion is undefeated in the half marathon since 2012 and has a PB of 59:30 for the distance. But compatriot Mosinet Geremew, who has a personal best of 59:11, will be the fastest man in the field.

USA’s 2015 winner Diego Estrada will return to Houston to defend his title, having won 12 months ago with a PB of 1:00:51.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF