Ethiopian dominance across the board.
Written by: David Monti
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
HOUSTON — While it was hard to match the excitement of Saturday’s Olympic Marathon Trials here, the top competitors in the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon gave it their best shot, toppling the men’s and women’s course records in both races. Sunday’s event marked the 40th running of the marathon here.
The record breaking started in the half marathon. With pacemaking help from Kenya’s Philemon Limo, Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa, the reigning IAAF World Championships Marathon bronze medalist, went out at a fast clip, hitting 5K in 14:01 and 10K in 28:02. His nearest challenger, compatriot Tilahun Regassa, was nearly a minute back. Limo left the course after 10-K, leaving Lilesa — who only decided to run the race a week ago — to run the remaining kilometers alone. He clocked an excellent 49:22, to smash Ryan Hall’s 2007 course record of 49:43. His was the fourth-fastest half marathon ever on U.S. soil.
“I was very much prepared for this race, and it was comparatively easy for me,” Lilesa said through an impartial interpreter. “I’m really very happy. This is my best personal best. I’m happy to have achieved this thing (the record).”
The women’s half marathon offered considerably more drama. Reigning Boston Marathon champion Caroline Kilel of Kenya was running shoulder-to-shoulder with Belaynesh Oljira, an Ethiopian who won last month’s Corrida de São Silvestre in Luanda, Angola, with 200 meters to go. The pair jostled as they made the final left hand turn into the 184-meter homestretch in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center. Oljira went wide, then accelerated away from Kilel to take the win in 1:08:26, two seconds ahead of the Kenyan and 1:15 under Shalane Flanagan’s 2010 course record. Oljira said that she was counting on her track speed to get the win.
“I’m very much into the 10,000, so I have the speed,” she said through the interpreter. “That helped me a lot today.”
She was not, however, thinking about the course record, and the $7500 bonus the organizers had on offer. “Nobody told me about the time, but I ran very fast,” she said with a laugh.
Both Lilesa and Oljira earned $10,000 for their victories plus the course record bonuses.
Behind the men’s winner, two Americans ran noteworthy times. Scott Bauhs of the Mammoth Track Club clocked 1:01:30 in third place, while former University of Oregon star Luke Puskedra ran 1:01:36 in fourth. Both marks were personal bests, and Puskedra made his debut at the distance.
In the marathon, Ethiopia’s Tariku Jufar broke away from compatriot Debebe Tolossa in the 38th kilometer, then ran alone to the finish in a course record 2:06:51 (previous 2:07:04). Jufar, who was struck by a car in Addis Ababa in 2009 and suffered broken bones, was beaming after his victory and personal best.
“I’m really very glad to run on this course in this race,” he said with the help of an interpreter. “I was very much encouraged by the people on the side cheering us. I was also comfortable with the (cool) weather, as well.”
Jufar said he was very thankful that he was able to recover fully from the accident.
“It was a very difficult time for me,” he said. “By God’s grace I came out of it. I had a broken collarbone. I’m glad now that God has helped me to come here and win and make a better time.”
The women’s race boiled down to a time trial for Ethiopia’s Alemitu Abera. Aided by a male pacemaker, Daniel Gathei, Abera ran away from the field to win in 2:23:14, over five minutes ahead of Australia’s Benita Willis. Abera broke Teyba Erkesso’s 2010 course record by 39 seconds.
Both Jufar and Abera won $35,000 in prize money, plus a $10,000 bonus for breaking their respective course records.
Amongst athletes trying to qualify for the Olympic Games, Willis did best. Her 2:28:24 was well inside of the Australian federation standard of 2:32:00, so she is very likely to make the team.
“My main aim was to run under 2:32-flat, which is under our qualifying standard,” she said. “I knew I was in really good shape, but I didn’t want to run too fast today.”
Behind Willis, Hungary’s Zsofia Erdelyi clocked 2:36:56 in fifth place, which may get the USC steeplechaser selected for the London Games (the IAAF “A” standard is 2:37:00). For Erdelyi, 24, today’s race was her second marathon in just 42 days. She ran the Zappos.com Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon last December, clocking 2:48:59 in her debut.
On the men’s side, there was less success. Australia’s Shawn Forrest ran 2:14:37 (fourth place) and Canada’s Simon Bairu 2:19:52 (sixth). Neither athlete made their national federation’s qualifying standards.