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Malta International Challenge 2004

Poul Greena Wins Malta International Challenge Marathon by Paul Grech

If there was ever a sporting event where calculators could be considered an essential accessory it was certainly at the third and final leg of this year’s Malta International Challenge Marathon.

Over the course of the previous two days’ running, Dane Poul Greena had built a 16-second advantage over 2003 winner Dave Mansbridge. Malta’s Jonathan Balzan was third.

The beauty of this event, however, lies in the fact that no lead is unassailable especially one as slender as that.

All of which set the stage for a potentially dramatic conclusion to proceedings, something which the crowd that gathered at the finishing line in City Gate were certainly aware of.

At the sight of the lead car, the expectation level rose visibly as those watching waited to calculate who was to win this year’s marathon.

In the end, no mental computations were necessary. True, Mansbridge managed to beat Greena yet the distance between the two was such that there was never any doubt as to who the overall winner would be.

Physically exhausted by the day’s exertion, Greena (2.25.02) took a while to regain composure. He was equally overwhelmed by his success.

“It was very tough for me because I’m not a marathon runner,” he said.

“I enjoyed the first two days because of shorter distances however today’s 25k from Bugibba was tough.

“I’ve never run such a distance before. But I stuck at it as I was in the lead. I was dead tired at the final hill but the will to win got me through to the finish line. I’m extremely satisfied with the result.”

Mansbridge’s disappointment was all too visible.

“I think that I made a bit of a mistake,” he admitted. “At the 15k mark I got away from them and probably opened a 15-second lead but I lost a lot of energy at that point. They started catching up on me and with 3k to go I looked behind me, saw Greena and knew that there was no way that I was going to beat him.

“If I had just waited and conserved my energy perhaps I would have been able to make it.”

Of some comfort for the Briton was the news that he had set a new record in the veterans’ category. His time of 2.25.16 shaved off over three minutes from the previous mark that Alan Carroll had set way back in 1991 in the debut year of the Challenge.

During the first two days, the tussle between the leaders had shifted the focus away from Balzan’s efforts.

However, on the third day the leading Maltese athlete forced himself back into the spotlight when he managed to slip past his two rivals and claim the final stage.

“I’m as satisfied as if I’d managed to win the marathon,” he exclaimed afterwards.

“It was tough but I kept up with them and in the final leg I saw my chance and overtook Mansbridge. It’s an incredible feeling for me to win this stage.”

No Maltese has ever won the men’s Challenge yet but Balzan is as good a bet as any of registering that achievement. His overall time of 2.26.16 not only marked an improvement of over three minutes from last year’s finishing time but would have been enough for him to win the previous edition.

Even Mansbridge admitted that “Jonathan is constantly improving and I’d expect him to be much closer next year round.”

And there was further Maltese joy in the women’s event as Carmen Hili won for the third year running.

She, too, held a slender 24-second lead over the rest of the pack coming into the final day but her greater experience ultimately told.

“It was much more challenging but at the same time it helps to keep your focus when you have others just behind you,” she said of the keenly contested event.

The improvement in her time – the 2.56.25 was not only three minutes better than last year’s time but also the third best time ever registered by a Maltese woman – was proof of the benefits in having strong opposition.

English athlete Sarah Williams, who admitted to “finding it very tough, particularly the final hill,” finished in second place with a time of 2.57.47.

Danish runner Vibeke Hansen, who was third on the eve of the final stage, trailed off and was beaten to the final spot on the podium by England’s Aileen Brown (3.07.24).

The St Patrick’s AC trio, formed of Balzan, Drew Lang and Manwel Spiteri, won the team event.

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