After two years of rehearsals and reversals, Julius Maisei of Kenya got it right the third time, and won the 17th edition of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on Sunday morning, in 2.14.18.
Maisei had finished second here two years ago, and fourth, albeit just one second behind the winner last year. But when he again found himself in company with three kilometres to run, he took off in what would normally have been described as a finishing sprint.
It was enough to carry him clear of his pursuers – colleague James Mbugua and Ethiopian Deribe Robi – and despite having to relent the torrid pace in the final kilometre, which provoked a few anxious looks back, Maisei has built up a sufficient cushion to relax and come home ten seconds to the good over Mbugua, who clocked 2.14.28 in second place, with Robi another nine seconds adrift in third place, with 2.14.37.
The strong headwind for at least half of the out-and-back course, coupled with the local policy of not employing pacemakers militated against fast times, and although it was reasonably cool at 17C, Maisei said that the humidity was again a factor. Nevertheless, the upshot was that a group of close to 20 dawdled through the half in close to 68 minutes.
Robi was mostly responsible for leading the pack for much of the second half, and contributing to its gradual break-up. But there were still a dozen in contention at 32k, and it took Maisei and Mbugua joining the Ethiopian at the front that rapidly reduced the contenders to a trio. And just past the 39k mark, Maisei made his decisive move.
“I was getting stressed with so many people being in the group. I was wondering when they were going to break up. I was feeling strong, but I just didn’t know about the others. At about 39 and a half, I could see the 40k marker, I decided to move. I thought if they catch me now, they deserve to win”. But it wasn’t to be, and Maisei duly won the coveted increased first prize of $57,000.
The headwind meant that Dereje Abera’s course record of 2.11.27 from last year was never remotely threatened; that was some consolation to the Ethiopian, who suffered a calf sprain, and limped home just outside the top ten.
But Maisei said that he thought pacemakers would have made a big difference to the finishing time. “I think they could even do2.06, 2.07 here with pacemakers”.
Incidentally, like Maisei, Mbugua has previous form here, third in 2011 and now second; it remains to be seen, as he admitted ruefully whether he can come back next year, and emulate Maisei.
Misiker Mekonnin Demissie had little trouble emulating herself in winning the women’s race, in 2.30.49, just over half a minute slower than the course record 2.30.12 she set in winning last year.
The Ethiopian, who represented Bahrain as a youngster, before going to live in New Mexico five years ago, was never really challenged for the victory. She always looked in control, heading the pack, until she broke away at 35k.
“It was windy, it was very hard, because it was in the face a lot,” she said immediately after securing her $57,000. “I felt good, and confident, and now I feel very happy”.
As in the men’s race, there were only two others in contention at in the latter stages of the race. Demissie’s compatriot Makda Harun got the better of north Korean Kim Kum Ok, to finish second in 2.31.20. Kim finished third in 2.32.21, but that also won her the concurrent 14th Asian Championships title, thus emulating her victory the last time it was held in Hong Kong, in 2008.
The favourite, Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, also won the men’s Asian title. The Mongolian clocked 2.17.56.
|5||25054||Joseph Mwangi NGARE||KEN||2.14.56|
|7||20927||Nelson Kirwa ROTICH||KEN||2.15.17|
|1||205||Misiker Mekonin DEMISSIE||ETH||2.30.49|
|3||63||KIM Kum Ok||DPR KOR||2.32.21|
|5||30202||Halima Hassen BERISO||ETH||2.33.20|
|6||30200||Eunice Chebichi CHUMBA||KEN||2.33.25|