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Hong Kong 2012 preview


Hong Kong Marathon

Hong Kong Marathon

With so many good African, particularly Kenyan marathoners around nowadays, it takes a bit of initiative to get into foreign races if you’re not one of the sub-2.10 brigade. So when Julius Maisei heard that the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon – an IAAF Bronze Label Event – was paying good prize money without an overly talented field, he chanced a thousand dollars on an air fare and a hotel room last year.

It paid off handsomely. Towards the end of the 2011event, it looked as if he might catch the leader and win the race and the $34,000 first prize. Unfortunately for him, his Kenyan colleague, Nelson Kirwa Rotich stayed ahead and won by just six seconds, but Maisei got an excellent return on his investment, second place and a $15000 pay-off.

Maisei got an official invitation this year, but both runners are back to contest Sunday’s 16th running of the marathon, with Rotich quietly determined to defend his title, and net the improved prize of $50,000, and Maisei equally determined to deprive him of it.

“I’m in the same sort of shape I was in last year,” said Rotich, “but I think the field is better, so I can’t be sure of winning”. Maisei in contrast said, “I’m very happy to get an invitation this time. Nelson will be hard to beat, and there are other runners with better times than me. It’s a tough course, but I’m sure I can do a lot faster than last year”.

After last week’s domination of the Dubai Marathon (following a year of Kenyans winning virtually everything), the Ethiopian contingent is on a high to extend the New Year’s resolution. And with Gudisa  Shentema (2.07.34, Paris ’08), Chala Lemi (2.08.49, Toronto ’09), and Haile Haja (2.09.20, Daegu ’11), they have the three fastest men in the field.

Hong Kong conditions can be uncomfortably warm for marathon running, even in this season, but with Chinese New Year being celebrated early this year, the organisers were able to bring the date forward by three weeks, and indeed if the weather is anything like today – 13-15C (58-61F) and overcast – there should be perfect conditions for the early morning start and finish. But it’s a tough course, with plenty of bridges and tunnels to negotiate, and the men’s course record of 2.13.09 has lasted since the second running, in 1998.

That first race incidentally drew just 1000 runners. But the friendly rivalry with South East Asian rival island, Singapore pushing numbers up each year, Sunday’s 10k, ‘half’ and marathon will get close 70,000 competitors onto the crowded streets, with 13,000 doing the marathon.

With none of last year’s leading contenders present, the women’s race looks almost certain to go to an Ethiopian, with Misiker Demissie race favourite, thanks to her 2.25.21 in San Diego last year. Misiker used to compete under the name of Teyba Naser, and is still in most record lists as such. She was coy about the complete change of name, saying simply, “I had lots of problems”.

Whatever they were, they engendered emigration to the USA, where she has lived and raced for the past three years. Her broadly smiling presence (and coolly torn jeans) at the press conference today (Friday) suggests that the problems are well in the past, and if she runs as exuberantly as she smiles than colleagues Shitaye Gemechu (2.26.10, Paris ’09) and Goitetom Tesema (2.26.21, Rome ’11) are going to have their work cut out to prevent her winning.

There is a relatively rare appearance outside their native country for a pair from the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea. However Kim Kum-Ok, 12th in the 2008 Olympics, has won twice here in the past; the women’s marathon in 2008 (2.36.43), then the East Asian Games half-marathon the following year. She has run 2.26.56, so may well challenge for victory again. On the other hand, her young male colleague, Ri Kang Bom is little faster than her, on 2.25.20.

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