Best Ever Field for Honolulu Marathon on Sunday

By David Monti
December 10, 2011
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

HONOLULU (10-Dec) -- Tomorrow's 39th Honolulu Marathon here will feature it's strongest ever field, featuring six men with sub-2:08 career best times, two of whom have broken 2:07.  Moreover, the men's elite field boasts four previous race champions, including two-time winner Patrick Ivuti and defending champion Nicholas Chelimo, both of Kenya.

"For me, the men's race is really hard to figure out who's going to win," said executive race director Jon Cross in an interview.  "Patrick Ivuti, who knows the course, has got to be one of the contenders."

Ivuti, 33, who won here in 2008 and 2009, did not compete last year because of a leg injury.  He told Race Results Weekly yesterday that he was "feeling fine," a claim which is consistent with his 2:08:41 second place finish at the Vienna City Marathon last May.  Ivuti, twice a silver medalist at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, has a personal best of 2:07:46 set at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2005

Chelimo, also 33, who won here last year in 2:15:19 --the second-slowest time in the last 12 editions of the race-- has run well this year.  He won the Nagano Olympic Commemorative Marathon last April in Japan (unpressed in 2:10:24), and finished second in Eindhoven last October in 2:07:38, a personal best.  Cross said that Chelimo's slow winning time from last year was misleading.

"Last year there were slow times because it rained really hard on Friday," Cross explained.  "Luckily, it got sunny on Saturday, but it was super, super humid.  That slowed everybody down."

Three other men --Kenya's Benjamin Kiptoo Koulum and Nicholas Manza Kamakya, and Ethiopia's Tekeste Kebede-- appear to be the biggest challengers for Ivuti and Chelimo.  Kiptoo Koulum won both the 2009 Rome and 2011 Paris Marathons, running a personal best 2:06:31 in the latter race.  Manza Kamakya ran 2:06:34 at Amsterdam last October (4th place), while Kebede finished second at Boston in 2010 (2:07:23 PB).  Seven-time Honolulu winner Jimmy Muindi, 38, of Kenya is also competing here (his 19th appearance at Honolulu), and half-marathon ace Kiplimo Kimutai, also of Kenya, is setting the pace along with three-time Honolulu winner Mbarak Hussein of Albuquerque, N.M.  Kimutai may decide to finish the race, but Hussein will drop out by 25-K because he is running the USA Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston next month.

Cross definitely sees a good chance for an event record (2:11:12), if the weather cooperates.  High humidity is a certainty here in Hawaii, but strong winds can really slow the runners down.

"I'm a little more optimistic than other people you might talk to," Cross posited.  "I always think that the way times are getting faster and faster, I don't see why when there's guys that have the ability to run 2:06 that we can't have someone run under 2:10.  It's all weather-driven.  It's going to be a little windy."

Other men entered include Kenyans Patrick Nthiwa and Josphat Boit, both of whom are making their marathon debuts, and Ethiopian Ezkyas Sisay who finished ninth at the ING New York City Marathon last November in a career best 2:11:04.


GEBRE IS FAVORITE TO RETAIN WOMEN'S TITLE

Ethiopia's Belainesh Gebre, whose win here last year was controversial because she was paced and handed drinks by her boyfriend through 41 kilometers, is likely to retain her title.  Gebre, 24, who has run three marathons already this year, has a personal best time of 2:26:17 set at Chicago last October where she finished fourth.

"It's hard not to pick Gebre as a favorite, because now she knows the course and she's tough," Cross said.

But Cross cautioned fans not to count out the 41 year-old Russian, Svetlana Zakharova who, in nine appearances at this race has won three times and has never finished lower than second, including last year.

"Svetlana Zakharova, I know she's a masters runner now but she's never finished less than second," Cross intoned.  "I think she's won three times, five times [actually six] second place.  She's always strong; she's never really had a bad day."

Other likely contenders for the podium are Ethiopia's Misiker Mekonnin Demissie (2:25:20 PB), Kenya's Emmah Muthoni (2:29:52) and Japan's Eri Okubo (2:28:49).  Ethiopia's Woinishet Girma (2:27:51 PB) and Alemnesh Eshetu (2:33:26), Japan's Kaori Yoshida (2:29:45) and Yumi Hirata (2:29:33), and Russia's Valentina Galimova (2:20:30) round out the field.

A USD 150,000 prize money purse is on offer, with equal $40,000 first prize payments for men and women.  In addition, the event offers $15,000 bonuses for the men's and women's race records (2:11:12 and 2:27:19, respectively), plus a cumulative schedule of time bonuses which begin at sub-2:15:00 for men and sub-2:31:00 for women.

Cross, a dentist, started working for the Honolulu Marathon as a volunteer.  A former University of Michigan runner, Cross and Honolulu Marathon president Dr. Jim Barahal were captivated by the great Africans of the 1980's, and wanted to get Africans to run the race.  Cross was primarily responsible for recruiting three-time winner Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya, the race's first African winner in 1985.

"The race director told me that Africans couldn't run marathons: it was too far for them," Cross recalled with a smile.  "Next year we proved him wrong by bringing in Ibrahim Hussein.  That's how the connection got started."

PHOTO: Patrick Ivuti winning the 2009 Honolulu Marathon (photo courtesy of the Honolulu Marathon)

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