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Carmen Hili wins in sub 3Hr

Carmen Hili wins in sub 3Hr

Carmen Hili wins in sub 3Hr

Magri wins stage but Mansbridge retains title – Hili goes below three-hour mark by Paul Grech

The sight of Brian Magri leading at the closing stages of the third 25km stage that brought to an end the 2003 Gatorade Malta International Marathon Challenge, raised hopes of an overall Maltese winner for the first time in 13 years. In the end, however, Magri’s victory was only a symbolic one as he crossed the finishing line just six seconds ahead of David Mansbridge, not enough to close down the lead of 1:28 minutes the Briton had built in the previous two stages.

With such a lead, Mansbridge knew all he had to do was keep sight of Magri to win the event… and he did just that.

“It was quite a comfortable lead,” he said.

“I was just going to stay with the other two and take it easy all the way round, which is what I did. I knew that they would be battling it out for second place, so I wasn’t really interested in a sprint finish.”

His overall time was 2:27.52. A veteran of the Challenge, Mansbridge now has an evenly balanced roll of honour with four firsts, four seconds and four third places.

“It’s a good race,” he said. “The weather back home is becoming quite cold, getting here was rather cheap so if I can combine it with a race, why not?”

Unfortunately, the number of foreign athletes who share the same opinion is declining with this year’s starting total of just 127 athletes being the lowest ever. Asked about this trend, race director Barry Whitmore said:

“The lack of foreigners is obvious. This is an international problem: tourism is an international problem. It has nothing to do with the race because I know everyone loves and appreciates what is being done. Obviously, with the lower numbers it does make the financial budget more difficult and to make ends meet it will be more difficult this year.

“Still, I will make sure that it continues because I love the race.”

Whitmore can at least take heart from the number of Maltese athletes taking part and, with just eight seconds separating Magri (Athleta Pembroke) from Jonathan Balzan (St Patrick’s), the third stage was guaranteed a dramatic finish to determine a local winner.

Magri’s success in the final run eventually confirmed his placing with a time of 2:29.14 and made him the first Maltese to win the local men’s category three times in a row. For the former cyclist, who only took up running four years ago, this is

quite an achievement.

“I knew that at the Zurrieq half marathon three weeks ago, Jonathan finished four minutes ahead of me,” he said. “That’s a lot of time in a half marathon so I slightly changed my training.”

In fact, finding the optimal training pattern proved to be particularly problematic for Magri.

“I’ve got tendonitis and because the impact is very hard, I can’t train too much on the road meaning that I had to modify my training. However, so far the results are very good. I’m very happy with today’s win and my race overall.”

In the end Balzan, who was taking part in the Challenge for the first time, had to settle for third place overall with a time of 2:29.28.

“I really liked this race,” he said. “There is a lot of tension and most of the time you don’t know what you’re doing for the three days, whether you are in the right condition physically. Still, I’m very happy with my result… going below the 2:30 mark was my target.”

Having dominated all the way, it was no surprise to see Carmen Hili (St Patrick’s) retaining her women’s title. Over the three stages she managed to open a gap of more than three minutes over her closest rival and never looked in danger.

“I felt very good but as a race it is always difficult,” she said. “There is always added pressure when you’re out to defend your title but I mainly focus on the time.”

Clearly, this tactic worked as her finishing time of 2:59.23 was almost seven minutes better than last year’s winning time. She is also the third Maltese woman, after Carol Galea and Daphne Farrugia, to have gone below the three-hour mark in this event.

Catherine Bonnici, however, failed to confirm last year’s second placing when she finished third overall behind American Cathryn Thomas who clocked 3:03.19.

Although Bonnici managed to claw back an impressive 57 seconds in the final stage, the gap Thomas had built over the initial stages was just too much for the St Patrick’s athlete. In the end, she missed out by a mere two seconds.

St Patrick’s won the team event. The combined times of Balzan, Drew Lang, Simon Camilleri and Manwel Spiteri were well clear of the rest.

Race Photos :

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