Kenyan´s Albert Korir, and Ethiopian´s Biruktayit Degefa were the Chevron Houston Marathon winners

Ethiopian women had already created their own Chevron Houston Marathon dynasty. But Biruktayit Degefa has taken this thing a step further, deciding to corner the market herself.

Degefa won Houston for the first time in her third visit in 2016, when she was 25. On Sunday, she won for the third time in four years while becoming the first woman to repeat as champion since 2010. And the one time she hasn't prevailed of late, in 2017, she crossed second, just 26 seconds back. Nor has she ever finished worse than fourth.

No wonder Degefa refers to H-town as "my hometown."

"When I prepare to come, I really get excited," she said. "On this occasion, I would like to thank Houston for the hospitality."

We, in turn, would like to thank her for her consistent excellence, although she expressed disappointment that the personal-best 2:23:28 she posted on a sunny, chilly morning run through the city's streets from downtown to the Galleria area and back fell 14 seconds short of the course record, something she very much wants to own before she's done.

"I came prepared to break it," Degefa said, "but it was colder (than I expected), and that made it difficult."

Korir didn't threaten the men's course record, but he's only 24, and who's to say he won't eventually collect a head full of cowboy hats — always awarded to Houston's winners — as well in the years ahead?

His story is an inspirational one. At 10, Korir lost his right thumb while chopping cow silage, and he soon quit going to school because he was routinely bullied. He wound up laboring for the equivalent of $5 a day to pay for food, never mind his running shoes. He'd never traveled to the United States before this weekend.

"It's good," Korir conceded, "to win on my first time."

In contrast, Houstonians who line the route have come to recognize Degefa both for her running skills and her radiance. One now-former Houstonian, Abinet Adraro, was so taken by Degefa following that first triumph that he made it a point to meet her at a dinner hosted by the local Ethiopian community. An email relationship turned into a marriage, and they split their time these days between Albuquerque, N.M., and her training grounds in Ethiopia.

Adraro, to be sure, was waiting for his wife as she crossed. Also a runner, he had completed the Aramco Half Marathon in 1:02:09.

Making a sixth consecutive Chevron start, Degefa seemed the strongest from the get-go in becoming the third woman to claim a (cowboy) hat trick. Veronique Marot (1986, 1989, 1991) and Tetyana Pozdnyakova (1995, 1999, 2000) are the other three-time winners. For the first 25 miles, however, Meseret Belete kept Gedefa's undivided attention, and should she deign to return in the future, it's a reasonable bet she'll claim a Stetson of her own.

posted Monday January 21st