Losing a Marathon by one second last year taught Dejere Abera of Ethiopia a lesson that he put to good use this morning (5), when he won the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon – an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race - by less than a second. Indeed so tight and exciting was the men’s finish that Eliud Cheptei in second place shared Dejere’s winning time of 2:11:27, while two more Kenyans, Cosmas Kyeva and Julius Maisei were just one second each further back.
Dejere improved the long standing course record by one minute and 42 seconds, but his colleague, Misiker Demissie took pride of place in that department when her runaway victory in the women’s race, in 2:30:12, took all of three and a half minutes from last year’s course record.
Given the tough course here, and the inevitable humidity, around 90% at one stage, albeit with reasonable temperatures of 16-19C (61-66F), the times were never going to be of the order of last week’s Dubai record breaking spree. But, like Dubai this was another Ethiopian double header to relish, and remind the Kenyans that they’re not going to get all their own way in Olympic year.
The Hong Kong organisers eschew pacing, but with over a dozen men together at halfway, and eight still in contention past 35 kilometres, combined with some of the most clement conditions in race history, a men’s record was always on the cards. And not before time some would say, Ethiopian Belay Wolashe’s 2:13:09 had lasted since the second edition of the event, in 1998.
When the leading quartet broke away with 40K in sight, it was always Dereje who was forcing it from the front, mindful he said later of that one second defeat in Ottawa last year to Laban Moiben of Kenya. Dereje managed to get a 10 metres lead two or three times in the last kilometre, but though he was pulled back each time, and then balked by an errant cyclist on the last turn into the finish in Victoria Park, he never looked like losing at that point.
“It wasn’t a problem,” said an ebullient Dereje, though it wasn’t clear whether he was talking of the cyclist or the three close pursuers. “I knew by then I could win. This is my first time in Hong Kong, but I love it.” And so he should, his win netted him $50,000 with a five figure time bonuses.
Though Cheptei shadowed him through the finish line, the Kenyan admitted he never felt he could win. “He was too strong, I was trying to go with him, but that was to make sure I stayed ahead of the third guy.” Like several of his compatriots last year, Cheptei paid his own way here, but the $1500 investment paid off handsomely, when he picked up $20,000 and a share of the time bonus.
There was more confusion over Misiker’s change of name than her running tactics. It seems that the Ethiopian had an unhappy time running for Bahrain under the name of Teyba Naser and has reverted to a full Ethiopian name of Misiker Mekonnin Demissie, and has been living with husband Zereu Kelele in Albuquerque, New Mexico for some time.
There was no debate about her victory though. She led from the start, and though she had colleague Shitaye Gemechu and Kenyan Winfred Nyansikera right behind until past halfway, when she accelerated at 30 kilometres, she ran right away from them.
“It’s a very hard course, and it was a little humid, but I thought I could win from 30k,” she said, “I’d like to run Boston now (April), because last year I had to drop out. I’d like to run in the Olympics eventually, but Ethiopia has many strong women. It will have to be the next one in Brazil.”
Both her pursuers had other problems, Shitaye finished with a one shoe full of blood from a toe injury, and Nyansikera had to stop for a vomiting fit. But Shitaye just managed to stay ahead to take second, 2:31:44, to Nyansikera’s 2:31:47.
Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF
1. Dereje ABERA, ETH 2.11.27 (course record)
2. Eliud CHEPTEI, KEN 2.11.27
3. Cosmas KYEVA, KEN 2.11.28
4. Julius MAISEI, KEN 2.11.28
5. George NGETICH, KEN 2.12.19
6. Lilan KIPROP, KEN 2.12.42
7. Haile HAJA, ETH 2.12.43
8. Nigussie CHALA, ETH 2.13.17
9. Patrick KOECH, KEN 2.13.19
10. Nelson ROTICH, KE 2.13.33
1. Misiker DEMISSIE, ETH 2.30.12 (course record)
2. Shitaye GEMECHU, ETH 2.31.44
3. Winfred NYANSIKERA, KEN 2.31.47
4. KIM Kum-Ok, DPR KOREA 2.32.48
5. Datu Zehara KEDIR, ETH 2.34.14
6. Viola BOR CHEPKETING, KEN 2.37.11
7. Goitetom HAFTU, ETH 2.39.43
8. Malika BENLAFKIR, MAR 2.41.22
9. Mariia TSKAIA, KRG 2.49.41
10. THI Bin Pham, VTN 2.56.11