HOUSTON — The $150,000 Houston-Tenneco Marathon, already considered one of the leading marathons in the nation, will qualify leading United States finishers for this summer's Pan American Games at Indianapolis.
Defending champions Paul Cummings of Utah and Great Britain's Veronique Marot lead a field of 4,500 for today's 26.2-mile race.
The Athletics Congress, sanctioning body for U.S. track and field events, has designated the Houston event as the U.S. men's national championship marathon. The top two American men and women finishers will qualify to represent the United States at the Pan Am Games marathon in August.
The International Amateur Athletics Federation has selected the event the first of a series of major international races leading to a world championship title.
"Of the 60 runners in the men's division who accepted our invitations, 40 have times better than 2 hours, 20 minutes," said talent coordinator John Hobbs. "There are 23 who are sub-2:15 marathoners."
Among the top entries are Ric Sayre of Oregon, winner of the Los Angeles Marathon and runnerup at Pittsburgh, Denmark's Henrik Jorgensen and Allan Zachariassen, and Kenyans Geoffrey Koech and Sam Ngatia.
The women's race could be dominated by foreign competition. Marot, the 1986 champion in 2:31.33, will be challenged by Sylvie Bornet of France, Evy Palm of Sweden and Bente Moe of Norway. Bornet placed fourth to Grete Waitz in the London Marathon while Moe was third at the Houston Marathon in '86.
The women's course record is 2:27.51, set in 1984 by Ingrid Kristiansen.
Cummings, 33, who won the Olympic marathon trials in 1984, missed the 1984 and '85 Houston marathons because of either allergy or bronchial problems. But last year, he raced by David Edge in the final 350 yards to claim the title in 2:11.31. The meet mark is 2:11.20 set by Benji Durden in 1984.
"I feel I have world-record potential," Cummings said. "And I'd like to think I have a lot of years of distance running left in me. But you never know."
The men's and women's winners will each receive $22,000 first-place prize money.
Several big-name performers who participated in last year's run are skipping th s year. Houstonian Marty Froelick, the 1985 winner, Jerry Kiernan of Ireland, Francie Larrieu-Smith and Marianne Dickerson are among the 1987 no-shows.
Several are recovering from minor injuries while others participated in the Twin Cities Marathon last October in Minnesota, which served as the 1986 TAC Championships as well as the trials race for the 1987 World Championships.