By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
HONOLULU (10-Dec, Race Results Weekly) — After a marathon journey to get to Hawaii, a quartet of Ethiopian runners are looking forward to making the most of their first visit to the Aloha State. The group of athletes, coached by Yirefew Birhanu Derb, will line up Sunday before dawn for the 50th running of the Honolulu Marathon, America’s fourth-largest marathon.
The race features a more robust elite athlete roster following last year’s slimmed-down line-up coming off the pandemic. Click to follow live results and track your favorite runners in the battle for the titles. Read More News: Kalakaua Merrie Mile: Scotsman Gourley comes out on top
Shifera Tamru and Asefa Mengstu lead the men’s elite field, while Abebech Afework and Bere Ayalew are the top entrants in the women’s division. After a trip that required more than 21 hours of air travel across multiple flights –from their home base in Addis Ababa to Frankfurt, then Los Angeles before reaching Honolulu– they arrived late Wednesday. They immediately popped into a McDonald’s for dinner, and have been getting acclimated to the local time zone, 13 hours behind Ethiopia.
“They were all very happy to be invited to this race because they know it’s a very good marathon,” Coach Derb told Race Results Weekly during a photo shoot for the athletes on Waikiki Beach. “They are looking forward to racing and happy to have the chance to visit Hawaii.”
Tamru, 24, is coming off October’s Chicago Marathon, where he clocked 2:07:53 to finish fifth for the second consecutive year. He says that he has recovered well and is ready to go for Sunday. He has won three marathons in his career, all in South Korea: Chunchon in 2018, Seoul in 2019 and Daegu this past April. His personal best of 2:05:18 came at the Dubai Marathon in 2019.
The more experienced Mengstu –who represented Ethiopia as far back as the 2010 IAAF Half Marathon Championships– has a resume with 13 marathon finishes, including the 2018 Dubai Marathon, where ran his lifetime best of 2:04:06. His most recent race was eight months ago, so he should be well rested.
“I’m happy to be here and I’m expecting to win the race on Sunday,” he said with a quiet smile as the athletes posed for photographs and chatted with the media.
The two men work well together in training, Derb says. But on Sunday, he points out, “it must be a competition.” In addition to each other, they will have to watch out for a strong Kenyan, 36-year-old Barnabas Kiptum, who has a personal best of 2:04:17 (Milan, 2021).
He dropped out of the Chicago Marathon this fall, but in July he proved he is still a contender by placing 15th at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon. Stanley Biwott, the 2015 New York City Marathon champion with a 2:03:51 personal best, had planned to run here but scratched.
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The women’s race is likely to come down to a duel between Afework and Ayalew. Like their male teammates, they also have a strong friendship and symbiotic relationship. “They are happy when they are training together, and they can help each other when they compete,” Derb said.
Afework, 31, is by far the more seasoned of the two. Her international racing career dates back to the 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, where she placed 18th. She has 20 marathon finishes to her name, and a personal best of 2:23:33 from Dubai in 2015.
“I have a lot of experiences from other races and I’m expecting to use that previous experience to run well on Sunday,” said Afework, who is coming off a DNF in October’s Lisbon Marathon.
The 23-year-old Ayalew is a comparative novice, with four marathons in the books, but each one has been progressively faster. The most recent, in Eindhoven, Netherlands, in October, resulted in her quickest time yet (2:22:52). “My training has been good and I expect to show that on Sunday,” she said.
The women’s field also includes Canadian Olympian Lanni Marchant, who won this race a year ago on a short recovery from the New York City Marathon, and Japanese veteran Mai Ito (2:24:42 PB).
Should weather conditions cooperate –it’s been very windy the last several days– both the men’s and women’s course records could be in play. Titus Ekiru of Kenya holds the men’s standard of 2:08:00 from 2019, while his compatriot Brigid Kosgei clocked 2:22:15 in 2017. (Kosgei set the current world record of 2:14:04 two years later.) Prize money will be paid three deep: $25,000-10,000-5,000.
The forecast for Sunday morning calls for a temperature of 74F/23C when the gun goes off at 5 a.m. Most of the race will be run in the dark, as the sun will rise just before 7 a.m. on race day.
PHOTO: The elite field for the 2022 Honolulu Marathon (left to right): Eri Suzuki (JPN), Lanni Marchant (CAN), Mai Ito (JPN), Reuben Kerio (pacemaker/KEN), Abebech Afework (ETH), Barnabas Kiptum (KEN), Bere Ayalew (ETH), Asefa Mengstu (ETH) and Shifera Tamru (ETH). Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly