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Zurrieq Half 2004 Report

Christian Nemeth

Christian Nemeth

Nemeth and Galea shine brightest as the stars come out in Zurrieq by Paul Grech

The unusual sight of Peppi Azzopardi in full running gear welcomed Zurrieq residents early yesterday morning. Along with others like Xandru Grech and Andrea Cassar, popular television host Azzopardi took part in a fun run organised jointly by Caritas and Zurrieq International Half Mar-athon organisers to mark World Run Day where runners worldwide are encouraged to collect money for charity.

For all the personalities present, however, the real star of the day was Belgian Christian Nemeth. He broke his own course record with a time of 1:09:58 and became the first athlete to retain the title.

Nemeth, however, had to share the spotlight with Carol Galea (1:20:37) as the evergreen athlete continued to defy the laws of nature by running faster with the passing of time and improving on the record she had established last year.

Understandably, both winners were visibly pleased with their achievements.

“My aim was always that of beating the previous record but there was a point when I thought that I wouldn’t be able to make it by as much as I wanted,” said Nemeth.

“Then, when I got to the final stretch, I realised that I was still in a good time so I pushed harder.”

Nemeth could improve even further as his seasonal best of 1:05:10 indicates. However, such a time in the Zurrieq Half-Marathon seems prohibitive, as Nemeth himself admitted.

“Given the profile, I think that it would be difficult for someone to go beneath 1:07 over this route,” he said.

Setting a limit on the best possible time for a female athlete would be foolhardy, especially if Galea is still around. A couple of months back there were rumours that she had given up but, while confirming that she had indeed taken a break, Galea dispelled the idea that she was about to hang her running shoes.

“It is true that for a couple of months I had reduced my training but it was simply a break,” she said.

“It has done me a lot of good because now I am feeling much better both mentally and physically. I’ve got my motivation back and although I’ve had a slow start to the season, today I felt very good.”

She added: “I wasn’t thinking of beating the record but as the race went on I started realising that it was possible.”

Although he had to make do with second place, Jonathan Balzan was another satisfied athlete as he shaved off 38 seconds from his 2003 finishing time in one of the most significant improvements registered on the day.

“In consecutive years, I have improved from fourth to third and now second. On each occasion I’ve done so by improving my time and not because of a weaker field.

“Had I done this time last year I would have finished second as well,” Balzan said.

As expected, he was followed home by Drew Lang who admitted that the finishing time of 1:16:37 was “what I was looking to register… I was confident of finishing third.”

The tussle for second and third places in the women’s race was a much closer affair as Lisa Bezzina and Giselle Camilleri sprinted over the final 100 metres with the former piping her rival by a mere six seconds.

Bezzina (1:25:27) has been one of the revelations of the season and her performances have been continuously improving.

“Whereas before I focused on middle distances now I have switched to longer events. The results are being very positive and for that I have to thank my coach John Walsh who has been instrumental,” she said.

Despite being edged out, Camilleri was still happy with her result (1:25:33), approximately the same as last year’s.

“I’ve suffered from a really bad injury and had to stop training for seven months,” Camilleri said.

“There were some who told me that my career was over. However, I spent three months in Belgium and slowly started running again. My results are picking up but today’s time is much better than I was expecting.”

And on a memorable edition of the Zurrieq International Half Marathon, the day ended as it had started – with an unusual sight.

This time it was that of five hoteliers in staff uniforms who ran the whole distance in order to raise funds for charity. Deservedly, they got the loudest cheer of the day.

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