The 19th edition of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon will take place early Sunday morning, with Rehima Kedir of Ethiopia defending the title she won last year; and in the absence through injury of her colleague, the 2014 men’s champion Feyera Gemeda, that race promises to be closely competitive, with ten sub-2.10 men in contention for the $65,000 first prize.
Word from the various training camps indicates that the recent Ethiopian grip on the Hong Kong titles is likely to continue via Wosen Zeleke, Girma Assefa and Solomon Tsige, with leading Kenyan rival being Felix Keny, with his compatriot William Chebor as outsider. Similarly, in the women’s race, Kedir is likely to be challenged by her training partners, Selomie Getnet and Afera Godefay.
Keny is the fastest man in the field, with three sub-2.08s to his credit, and a best of 2.07.14, from his win in Valencia, Spain in 2013. But Girma Assefa is reckoned to have made an impressive comeback in training, and is reputedly back to something like his best form of three years ago, when he clocked 2.07.43 in Paris. Chebor has two course records to his name, which also indicates a winner. But the man for the special occasion is Siraj who, when he won the Rome Marathon in 2010, took off his shoes and padded barefoot across the line in honour of his compatriot, Abebe Bikila, who opened the African floodgates 50 years earlier, when winning the 1960 Olympic title in the Eternal City.
Women’s marathoning has a more recent history, but no less impressive for the strides the practitioners have made in the last three decades, since it became commonplace. Paula Radcliffe’s world record, of 2.15.25 is less than ten seconds slower than Abebe’s winning time in Rome. Like last year, Kedir isn’t the fastest woman in the field, but having paid her own way here in 2014, she made an astute investment, which paid off handsomely, when she took home $65,000. Along with colleagues, Godefay and Getnet, Beatrice Toroitich of Kenya should also be in the mix, as should two north Koreans (see below).
Concurrent to the main event, the 15th Asian Championships will be held in Hong Kong for the fourth time, with contestants also competing for the open prizes. Previous Asian title winner here, in 2013, the Mongolian, Ser-od Bat-Ochir is missing this year, though his compatriot, Olanbayar Chamsran should be in contention for a medal. Outstanding favourite, however is Pak Chol, from the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea, who has run 2.12.41, albeit a half dozen years ago. Equally, his two colleagues in the women’s race, Kim Mi Gyong and Kim Hye Gyong, with 2.26.32 and 2.27.04 respectively are over ten minutes faster than any of the other contenders for the Asian title. Incidentally, despite the same family name, the north Korean women are not related, though Hye Gyong does have a running twin sister, not competing here, named Kim Hye Song.
Overall event entries, including the half-marathon, 10k, and relays top 74,000 this year, with close to 15,000 in the marathon. After a relatively modest temperature last year, this year’s race, beginning at 06.00 local time, is expected to begin with the mercury at around 15/16C, rising towards low 20s by the elite finish, between 08.10 and 08.35. The Marathon was inaugurated in 1997, as a cross-border run (between Hong Kong and mainland China), to celebrate the return of sovereignty from the UK. Hong Kong is one of several regions in China designated as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). Recent differences between local activists and central government in Beijing resulted in lengthy disturbances before the end of the old year.
However, student leaders have given assurances that there will be no disruptions to the Marathon in the wake of the ‘Occupy’ movement. But, apparently hundreds of people have pledged to run with yellow umbrellas, which became the symbol of the movement. Organizing committee chairman, William Ko advised, "Actually, running with an umbrella is a really tough task. I suggest they could express their opinions in other places.