Ethiopian Wegi wins Stratton Faxon Half Marathon in first U.S. race

Reid L. Walmark

Ethiopian Wegi Habtamu Arga breaks the tape at 1:05:31 to win the Fairfield Half Marathon at Jennings Beach in Fairfield, Conn. on Sunday, June 22, 2014. Photo: Brian A. Pounds
Ethiopian Wegi Habtamu Arga breaks the tape at 1:05:31 to win the Fairfield Half Marathon at Jennings Beach in Fairfield, Conn. on Sunday, June 22, 2014. Photo: Brian A. Pounds

(Fairfield Citizen) FAIRFIELD — For centuries now, America as the “land of the free” has held more meaning to foreigners as the land of opportunity. For 20-year-old Habtamu Arga Wegi, of Ethiopia, running his first race in the United States on Sunday morning at the 34th Stratton Faxon Half Marathon, Fairfield’s Jennings Beach became the place to seize his opportunity and begin to join the list of many African runners who have dominated much of the American distance road race scene over recent years.

Wegi made a dominant move just before the 11-mile mark, pushed his lead to close to 10 seconds, then held on in the final half-mile for a two-second victory over Kenyan Philip Lagat, 31, who won the Cleveland Marathon in May. Wegi, who has been living in Springfield, Va., for nearly a month, began to bolt past Lagat and Ayele Megersa Feisa, of Ethiopia, 100 meters before the 12th mile began of the 13.1-mile race that was run in cool-for-summer conditions with its 8:15 a.m. start on Fairfield Beach Road.

A field approaching 4,000 runners completed the race that wound into Southport and Westport — over level streets and along rolling hills and in and out of tree-shaded roadways past stately mansions — before returning to the sun-drenched and breezy beach where friends and family awaited the diverse throng. Some runners said they have plans to run a marathon in the fall; others are content with the challenge of the half-marathon distance.

Approximately 100 meters past the 12-mile mark, Wegi was two seconds, or nearly 10 meters, in front of Lagat and Feisa. Within three more minutes of running, Wegi led them by almost 10 seconds. By then, it became apparent that Wegi had broken free, leaving the battle for the silver medal, though Lagat had charged back by the time the course was winding down at the beach.

Wegi finished with a time of 1 hour 5 minutes and 31 seconds (1:05:31), Lagat in 1:05:33 and Feisa in 1:05:37. Their average pace per mile was 5:01. Mike Popejoy, of Somerville, Mass., who is 28, was the first American to finish, placing sixth in 1:06:37. Kevin Hoyt, of Newtown, celebrating his 24th birthday on Sunday, was the first area runner to place, finishing 13th in 1:10:55, averaging 5:25 a mile. Julian Saad, 22, of Trumbull, was the next area finisher, winding up 15th in 1:12:56. Hoyt and Saad were 13th and 15th in last year’s race, too, as well as 14th and 18th in 2012 and 11th and 16th in 2011.

Askale Merachi, 27, of Ethiopia, won the women’s competition by nine seconds in 1:17:47, edging Kenyan Alice Kamunya, 23, who ran 1:17:56. Merachi, who was the runner-up in last year’s race, said she planned to use a kick at the finish. She pulled away from Kamunya in the final 100 meters. Read more…

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