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Jonathan Balzan is Malta’s Fastest Ever

Jonathan BalzanA BMW Malta Marathon and Half-Marathon that opened up with a record number of applications – 1050 at the last count – was enlivened by the setting of a new marathon record by Joshua Kipchumba.

It was clear from early on that the Kenyan, winner two years ago with a time of 2:21, was going to go below the 2:19:08 that the Sicily based Moroccan athlete Abdel Kebir Marchanne set back in 2005 such was the pace that he imposed. The questions was by how much.

Ultimately, it was just by over thirty one seconds, although the initial impression had been that it was going to be much more than that. “I think I can run faster,” Kipchumba himself admitted afterwards “but I’m still extremely happy with that time and to have broken the record.”

From the start, Kipchumba went into the lead with fellow Kenyan Julius Kirwa Choge and Burundi’s Joachim Nshimirmana following close by. At various stages both made moves to try and overtake the leader but Kipchumba was always more than ready for them.

Ultimately, his winning time of 2:18:37 was almost two minutes faster than that of Kirwa Choge – whose 2:20:35 finishing time would have been enough to win the previous edition of the Malta Marathon – whilst Nshimirmana was third with a time of 2:20:59.

The day’s fine weather aided the athletes and Kipchumba admitted that “conditions were almost ideal. It was slightly on the hot side but I don’t really mind that.”

Another who certainly didn’t mind the weather conditions was Jonathan Balzan who was cheered on not only as he was the first Maltese to come in but also because he did so in record fashion.

In fact, no other Maltese athlete has managed to complete the marathon in a faster time than Balzan’s 2:26:29.

“This is something that I’ve always dreamed about,” Balzan said whilst hugging his family. “I’ve worked so hard for this moment but to be able to set such a fast time is for me incredible.”

Balzan was also full of praise for his coach Roger Zammit. “This year he has changed my training because he felt that he needed to modernize it a bit. He’s always had great confidence in me and we planned this race to the smallest detail. I was aiming for a time of 2:27:30 so this time is even better than what I had planned for.”

“Obviously I’ve got to thank Roger as well as my sponsors, Ronhill and Diadora. Above all, I have to thank my family for their support.”

Hili Sets Personal Best
Another extremely pleased athlete at the finishing line was Carmen Hili who was not only the fastest woman in the marathon but also registered a personal best of 3:01:48.

She also captured the admiration of all those around her when, asked about her reaction on her win, she said that “I have to start off by thanking God because without Him this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Hili then continued by admitting that it was tough for her because “I had to run most of the race on my own” before concluding that “I have to thank my family, my sponsors of, Ronhill and Diadora for all their support.”

James Douglas Retains Half-Marathon
James Douglas retained the half marathon that he won last year when he completed the distance in 1:09:20. “I started off very fast, opened a lead after the first mile and didn’t look back after that,” the affable Briton said.

“It has been a very tough year for me as I’ve changed home twice and also changed job. Your running tends to suffer in such situations and I haven’t had as much time to train as I would have liked. Still, my coach told me that I could do a sub 1:10 time so it is pleasing to have proved him right.”

Second place went to Ciaran Doherty (1:10:30) ahead of the first Maltese in the form of Brian Magri (1:11:33). “I started very fast and was second behind Douglas,” Magri said. “Then Robert (Attard) caught up with me and it became tough to hold him off. Doherty surprised us a bit because we weren’t expecting him to overtake us but we quickly realised that he, like Douglas, wasn’t going to be caught.”

“From that point on, for me it was a question of staying in front of Attard and I just about managed that. This is my best ever time in the half marathon. I have to thank my wife for her support and patience. She does complain when I go out training but I think that she realises that sports is something that I cannot do without.”

Veteran Maltese runner Carol Walsh was the first woman in the half-marathon even though she wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. “My son was involved in an accident two weeks ago and I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital. I couldn’t miss the half-marathon although partly I took part to take my mind off of things.”

Angela Sammut came second with Joelle Cortis in third.

Full Marathon – Men
Joshua Kipchumba – Kenya – 2:18:37
Julius Kirwa Choge – Kenya – 2:20:35
Joachim Nshimirmana – Burundi – 2:20:59

Full Marathon – Women
Carmen Hili – St. Patrick’s AC / Malta – 3:01:48
Marisa Muscat – St. Patrick’s AC / Malta – 3:16:17
Petra Schiesewitz – Germany – 3:28:27

Half Marathon – Men
James Douglas – Great Britain – 1:09:20
Ciaran Doherty – Ireland – 1:10:30
Brian Magri – Pembroke Athleta / Malta – 1:11:33

Half Marathon – Women
Carol Walsh – Pembroke Athleta / Malta – 1:22:17

Contributor Paul Grech

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