Previews14 Jan 2022

Defending champions Merachi and Gezahegn face tough opposition in Houston


Kelkile Gezahegn in action at the Houston Marathon (© Victah Sailer / organisers)

Ethiopia’s Askale Merachi and Kelkile Gezahegn will defend their titles at the 50th Chevron Houston Marathon, while Kenya’s Vicoty Chepngeno and Shadrack Korir lead the entries for the Aramco Half Marathon. The two races, both World Athletics Elite Label events, will be held on Sunday (16).

Merachi won in Houston in 2020 in 2:23:29, finishing more than a minute ahead of the rest of the field. She went on to win the Taipei Marathon later that year in 2:28:31, but hasn’t raced since then, so her form going into this weekend’s race is relatively untested.

She will face stiff competition from compatriot Biruktayit Eshetu Degefa, a three-time winner in Houston who is aiming to become the race’s first four-time winner. She finished runner-up to Merachi in 2020, clocking 2:24:47. Her PB stands at 2:22:40, set in Toronto in 2019, while her fastest time in Houston is the 2:23:28 she ran to win three years ago.

Two-time Chicago Marathon winner Atsede Baysa has the fastest PB of the field with 2:22:03. A sub-2:25 time may be required to make the podium on Sunday, but the last time the 34-year-old Ethiopian bettered that barrier was back in 2012.

Ethiopian women have won the past 14 editions of the Houston Marathon, but that streak could be under threat on Sunday as Keira D’Amato aims to become the first US woman to win the Houston Marathon since 2005.

The 37-year-old, who took a complete break from running between 2009 and 2016, has been racking up impressive performances on the roads in recent years. She set a marathon best of 2:22:56 and a North American 10-mile record of 51:23 in 2020, finished fourth at last year’s Chicago Marathon, and clocked a half marathon PB of 1:07:55 last month. If conditions are good, the course record of 2:23:14 – set by Alemitu Abera in 2012 – could be under threat.

Ethiopian marathon debutante Tsige Haileslase and USA’s Roberta Groner, who finished sixth at the 2019 World Championships, are among the other contenders.

Gezahegn, the defending men’s champion, won with 2:08:36 two years ago and finished two minutes clear of his nearest rivals. His only race since then was the 2021 Boston Marathon, where he finished 15th in 2:12:37. A 2:05:56 runner at his best, the 25-year-old will be keen to use this weekend’s race as an opportunity for redemption.

If John Langat can reproduce his form from 2019, when he won in Eindhoven in a PB of 2:07:11, he could contend for the victory on Sunday. Japan’s Kenta Uchida will also be a formidable opponent. He has a lifetime best of 2:08:12 and will be keen to earn his first marathon victory.

Bahrain’s Abdi Abdo, Ethiopia’s 2008 world indoor 3000m champion Tariku Bekele and US marathon debutant Frank Lara are others to watch out for.

Vicoty Chepngeno will start as the favourite for the Houston Half Marathon, held concurrently with the marathon. The 28-year-old Kenyan has an impressive record in US road races; she has won nine of her past 10 half marathons on US roads, and her lifetime best of 1:07:22 was set in her most recent outing over the distance, in Philadelphia two months ago. Despite her extensive racing experience, though, this will be Chepngeno’s first Houston Half Marathon.

Compatriot Monicah Ngige, meanwhile, will be making her third Houston Half Marathon appearance. The 28-year-old set her PB of 1:07:29 there in 2019. More recently, she finished fourth at the Boston Marathon in October on her debut over the distance, clocking 2:25:32.

Sara Hall leads the US entrants. The 38-year-old has focused more on the marathon in recent years, achieving podium places at the 2020 London Marathon and the 2021 Chicago Marathon, also clocking a PB of 2:20:32 in between those outings. But she has also won her two most recent half marathons, setting a PB of 1:08:18 in 2020.

Shadrack Kimining Korir returns to Houston after finishing third in 2020 in a personal best of 59:27, just two seconds shy of the winner. His most recent outing was at the Lisbon Half Marathon in October, where he finished fifth in 1:02:42.

Wilfred Kimitei also competed in Lisbon towards the end of last year, albeit in a different event to the one where Korir raced, and finished 11th in 1:00:03 – just 23 seconds shy of the PB he set in Ras Al Khaimah in 2018.

Ethiopia’s Milkesa Mengesha also heads to Houston in good form. The 2019 world U20 cross-country champion, still only 21, finished ahead of Kimitei in Lisbon in November, clocking a PB of 59:48 in what was just his second half marathon to date. Earlier in 2021 he set a 5000m PB of 12:58.28 and finished 10th in the Olympic final at that distance.

Kenya’s Raymond Magut, who clocked a PB of 1:00:00 in Herzogenaurach in September, should also be a strong contender, along with Ethiopia’s Bayelign Teshager and Eritrea’s Tsegay Tuemay.

Elite fields


Half marathon
Vicoty Chepngeno (KEN) 1:07:22
Monicah Ngige (KEN) 1:07:29
Sara Hall (USA) 1:08:58
Caren Maiyo (KEN) 1:09:20
Sarah Pagano (USA) 1:09:41
Emily Durgin (USA) 1:09:47
Maegan Krifchin (USA) 1:09:51
Andrea Ramirez Limon (MEX) 1:10:20
Dominique Scott (ZAF) 1:10:42
Elaina Tabb (USA) 1:10:44
Nell Rojas (USA) 1:10:45
Julia Griffey (USA) 1:11:04
Emily Setlack (CAN) 1:11:41
Dakotah Lindwurm (USA) 1:11:43
Maor Tiyouri (ISR) 1:11:50
Paige Stoner (USA) 1:11:53
Jessica Judd (GBR) debut
Fiona O’Keeffe (USA) debut
Maddie Alm (USA) debut

Atsede Baysa (ETH) 2:22:03
Biruktayit Eshetu Degefa (ETH) 2:22:40
Keira D’Amato (USA) 2:22:56
Askale Merachi (ETH) 2:23:29
Roberta Groner (USA) 2:29:09
Kathya Mirell Garcia Barrios (MEX) 2:34:46
Militsa Mircheva (BGR) 2:35:03
Tsige Haileslase (ETH) debut
Maggie Montoya (USA) debut
Emily Kearney (GBR) debut
Alice Wright (GBR) debut


Half marathon
Shadrack Kimining Korir (KEN) 59:27
Wilfred Kimitei (KEN) 59:40
Milkesa Mengesha (ETH) 59:48
Raymond Magut (KEN) 1:00:00
Bayelign Teshager (ETH) 1:00:31
Tsegay Tuemay (ERI) 1:00:50
Patrick Tiernan (AUS) 1:01:22
Reed Fischer (USA) 1:01:37
Rory Linkletter (CAN) 1:01:44
Reid Buchanan (USA) 1:01:45
Colin Mickow (USA) 1:01:47
Matt Llano (USA) 1:01:47
Harvey Nelson (USA) 1:01:48
John Raneri (USA) 1:01:51
Brogan Austin (USA) 1:01:52
Zouhair Talbi (MAR) 1:02:00
Kirubel Erassa (USA) debut

Kelkile Gezahegn (ETH) 2:05:56
John Langat (KEN) 2:07:11
Kenta Uchida (JPN) 2:08:12
Abdi Abdo (BRN) 2:08:32
Elisha Barno (KEN) 2:09:32
Tariku Bekele (KEN) 2:09:33
Augustus Maiyo (USA) 2:10:47
Jesus Arturo Esparza (MEX) 2:11:04
Birhanu Kemal Dare (ETH) 2:12:21
Tyler Jermann (USA) 2:12:40
Frank Lara (USA) debut
James Ngandu (KEN) debut
Luke Caldwell (GBR) debut

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