20 FEB 2011 General News Hong Kong, China

Rono surprises in Hong Kong

Kenya's Janet Rono, winner of the women's race (Organisers)Kenya's Janet Rono, winner of the women's race (Organisers) © Copyright
Whether it was a gamble or an investment, it paid off handsomely for Janet Rono. The Kenyan was not one of those invited to run the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on Sunday (20), but she decided to spend a thousand dollars on an air ticket, entered as a member of the public, slept on a colleague’s floor, and then proceeded to break the course record, if only by one second, but more importantly carried off the first prize of US$34,000. Normally, that is the sort of stunt that only a hedge fund manager can get away with.

Whereas the latter will be vilified for it nowadays, the 22-year-old Rono is deserving only of praise for her initiative. On an unusually cool day, even for February in Hong Kong, Rono clocked 2:33:42, beating the mark set by Irina Bogacheva of Kyrgzstan in 2001. Second was the veteran Moroccan Samira Raif, in 2:33:51, and third was Bifa Yeshinabet Tadesse of Ethiopia, in 2:34:14.

It is a little remarked phenomenon on the marathon circuit, but there are so many good Kenyan runners nowadays that, even with the hundreds of marathons worldwide, a 2:15 East African man or a 2:35 woman (Rono’s previous best was 2:37:08) finds it hard to get race invites. So more and more of them are assessing their chances in some of the lesser known races, particularly in the Far East; and paying their own way. That shouldn’t be a problem for Rono from now on.

Her colleague Julius Maisei took a similar chance. But though he was catching race leader Nelson Rotich in the final two kilometres, he had to give best to his compatriot’s 2:16:00 victory. Nevertheless Maisei also made his trip well worthwhile, netting $15,000 for second, in 2:16:06. In third place was Tesfaye Girma Bekele of Ethiopia, in 2:16:31.

When the weather warms up, Hong Kong can be insufferable; the heat and humidity combining with the pollution to put a damper on even the most enthusiastic runner. But though Hong Kong does have a winter, albeit mild, this race has had its share of overly warm days in the past. This morning would have been perfect, but for the rain showers which made the road slick in places. Temperature at 6:20 for the marathon start was 12C, and barely rose before 9:00, by which time, both men’s and women’s winners were through the line in Victoria Park.

The organisers concede that if they employed pacemakers, they might get a faster race, and men’s winner Rotich concurred. “Yes, you might get a 2:12, or even a 2:10 (the record is 2:13.09, from 1998), but even big races like Boston have tried not to have pacemakers. But this course is very hard, it’s the hardest Marathon course I’ve run (out of 14 races), and today was slippery. But it was also slow, because we were all watching each other. Everyone was playing it safe, because of the road conditions. The field was still together at 37k, but I had made a couple of attempts to get away, and I could see no one was going to follow me, so I had a good idea I could win.”

Rotich also won $34,000, and said some of it would go to the less fortunate runners in his training group, “so they can rent houses when they come to train with us, and buy food.”

Pursuant to the philosophy which brought Rono here to race, most of Rotich’s marathons have been in the Far East. For example, he has won marathons in Korea, Malaysia, The Philippines, India and Thailand. Accordingly the next two events on his schedule are Kuala Lumpur and Taipei.

In overall terms, the event was a huge success. Hong Kong is under-populated by Chinese standards, but so successful have local health initiatives been since the SARS scare in the early years of the century, race entry has escalated. There were over 10,000 in the full marathon today, and another 55,000 in the 10k and half-marathon.

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF

Leading Results:
MEN -
1. Nelson Kirwa ROTICH, KEN       2:16.00   (US$) 34,000
2. Julius Kiplimo MAISEI, KEN     2:16.06         15,000
3. Tesfaye Girma BEKELE, ETH      2:16.31          6,500
4. Robert Kiplagat KOSEKEI, KEN   2:16.53          3,600
5. Hammou MOUDOUJI, MAR           2:16.55          1,800
6. Julius Kiprono MUTAI, KEN      2:17.04          1,600

WOMEN -
1. Janet Jelegat RONO, KEN        2:33:42       34,000
2. Samira RAIF, MAR               2:33:51       15,000
3. Bifa Yeshimabet TADESSE, ETH   2:34:14        6,500
4. Negash Hadush LETAY, ETH       2:35:35        3,600
5. CHENG Wenrong, CHN             2:35:49        1,800
6. Rose CHESHIRE, KEN             2:38:06           --