The 19th edition of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon will take place early on Sunday morning (25), with Ethiopia’s Rehima Kedir defending the women’s title at the IAAF Silver Label Road Race she won 12 months ago.
Like last year, Kedir isn’t the fastest woman in the field - her best is a relatively modest 2:32:11 when finishing sixth at the 2011 Daegu Marathon - but having paid her own way to Hong Kong in 2014, the astute investment paid off handsomely when she took home the first prize of US$65,000.
Kedir, along with her two compatriots and training partners Selomie Getnet and Afera Godefay, as well as Kenya’s Beatrice Toroitich, should be in the mix for the top places.
There are also two good runners from DPR Korea, Kim Mi Gyong and Kim Hye Gyong, with bests of 2.26.32 and 2.27.04 respectively, which means that the course record of 2:30:12, set in 2012 by Ethiopia’s Misiker Demissie, might be challenged.
Ethiopia’s 2014 men’s champion Feyera Gemeda has been unable to return owing to injury but that race promises to be closely competitive, with ten sub-2.10 men on the start line.
Ethiopia's Dejere Abera currently holds the Hong Kong course record with 2:11:27 and the word from the various training camps indicates that the recent Ethiopian grip on the Hong Kong men’s title is likely to continue via Wosen Zeleke, Girma Assefa or Solomon Tsige.
Assefa, in particular, is said 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.
The man for the special occasion though is Siraj Gena 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.
The leading Kenyan contenders look to be Felix Keny and William Chebor.
Keny is the fastest man in the field, with three sub-2.08 times to his credit, and a best of 2.07.14, from his win in the Spanish city of Valencia in 2013.
Concurrent to the main event, is the 15th Asian Marathon Championships, which will be held in Hong Kong for the fourth time, with contestants also eligible for the open prizes.
The outstanding favourite for the men's continental title is DPR Korea’s Pak Song Chol, who has run 2.12.41, albeit in 2007.
Equally, his two compatriots in the women’s race, Kim Mi Gyong and Kim Hye Gyong, are over 10 minutes faster than any of the other contenders for the Asian title.
Incidentally, despite the same family name, the two women are not related, although Kim Hye Gyong does have a running twin sister, not competing in Hong Kong, named Kim Hye Song.
Overall event entries, including the half marathon, 10km race, and relays top 74,000 this year, with close to 15,000 in the marathon.
This year’s race will be beginning at 0600 local time, when the mercury is expected to be at around 15-16 degrees Centigrade, rising towards low 20s by the elite runners finish, although humidity is always a factor in Hong Kong.
Organisers for the IAAF