Marathon at 'bursting point'
The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon has reached 'bursting point' and organisers fear that unless roads on the route are kept open longer they will not be able to meet growing public demand to take part.
'We have reached a maximum point as far as the number of runners we can safely accommodate this year,' Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association chairman Kwan Kee said. 'If we need to increase numbers next year, we will need a whole new approach from the government as well as the public to road closures.'
A record 70,000 runners - 5,000 more than in 2011 - will turn up at dawn on Sunday to take part in the marathon, half-marathon and 10-kilometre races. Organisers have been forced to use staggered times, but there are still worries about crowding on roads near the finish line at Victoria Park. 'Every year, for the past few years, we have managed to cope with an extra 5,000 runners.
But this time it looks as if we have really arrived at bursting point,' organising committee chairman William Ko Wai-lam said. 'Unless we have more time next year, we will not be able to increase numbers and this would be a shame as we would have to [stop] people from participating.' Entries for Sunday's race closed well before the deadline, with organisers inundated by applications. In all, 37,000 runners will take part in the 10 kilometre race on the Island Eastern Corridor, with the first of six starts at 5.30am.
The half-marathon field of 20,000 runners will set off in three groups, the first also getting under way at 5.30am. The marathon, with 13,000 entries, will have two starts, one at 6.45am and the other at 7.15am. Both the half-marathon and marathon begin on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. Twenty wheelchair athletes are also taking part in the marathon and 30 have signed up for a three-kilometre race.
'We will be given the roads from midnight on Saturday to around 2pm on Sunday. For the eastern corridor, we have it for a smaller period as we have to open it up to public traffic by 10am. If we had the roads for longer, we could easily accommodate a larger [field],' Kwan said. 'But the biggest obstacle is the mindset of the public as well as the government. People don't want their lives to be disrupted even though it is for just one day.'
Last year, almost 10 per cent of the marathon field failed to complete the race in the allotted time and had to be picked up by buses. More time would allow them to complete the challenge, and give organisers a greater margin for safety.
'We don't want it to be too crowded, especially at the end at Victoria Park. We have to give the marathon runners ample space to run,' Kwan said. Ko added: 'We will be reviewing the whole race, as is our normal practice, after this Sunday and look at how we can make improvements for next year. But one of the key ingredients is to keep the roads open for longer.'
'If we had the roads for longer, we could really transform the Hong Kong marathon into a truly international event,' Kwan said.
A nine-member delegation from Guangzhou will arrive this weekend to see how the event is organised; Guangzhou wants to join Beijing and Shanghai as top cities on the mainland to host a marathon.