Simon Bairu, Benita Willis Take On East Africans At Houston Marathon

Simon Bairu and Benita Willis, a pair of international athletes who train in the United States, will each contest the Chevron Houston Marathon a week from today in hopes of hitting qualifying marks to represent their homelands at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Bairu, the Canadian national record holder for 10,000 meters (27:26.63), is looking to complete his first marathon on Sunday. He started the 2010 New York City Marathon but was unable to finish and planned to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October but pulled out due to fatigue from training. Bairu has a half marathon personal best of 1:02:08.

The former Wisconsin Badger trains under the Oregon Track Club and coach Jerry Schumacher in Portland, Ore.

The fastest man in the field is Kenyan Charles Munyeki. His personal best of 2:07:06 is just two seconds slower than Bakana Daba’s course record set in 2010. If Munyeki or any of his competitors can improve upon Daba’s 2:07:04, it would mark the fourth consecutive year in which the course record was broken.

Willis has represented her native Australia at each of the last three Olympics but is better known for her 2004 World Cross Country title. She remains the last non-African to win that championship. Her marathon personal best of 2:22:36, set in Chicago in 2006, is the fastest in the field. Willis, who does much of her training in Boulder, Colo., won the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon last month in 1:10:40.

Challenging Willis will be a group of strong Ethiopian women led by Alemitu Abera. After finishing third a year ago, Abera returns to Houston seeking a victory. Since last January, she set a personal best of 2:26:33 at the Daegu International Marathon in South Korea and also posted a victory at the Istanbul Marathon in a time of 2:27:56.

The race, which begins at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, January 15, features a first prize of $35,000 for both the men’s and women’s winner.

For more information on the Chevron Houston Marathon, click here.

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