Record 64,000 runners take to the streets in Hong Kong Marathon
But spirits soon lift after collapsing arch delays proceedings, as record numbers take part
Despite the adrenaline coursing through the veins of tens of thousands of competitors, there was a strangely deflated feel at the starting line of yesterday's Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon.
And it was not because athletes were disappointed at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's decision not to start the race.
It was because the giant inflatable arch marking the start on Nathan Road collapsed on athletes' heads during the countdown to the full marathon, forcing organisers to delay proceedings by five minutes.
"Someone kicked the plug and the whole thing started to collapse, but luckily we were able to get it back to its proper shape," said relieved chief organiser William Ko Wai-lam. "The race was delayed by five minutes but other than that everything went smoothly."
Watch: Thousands join Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon
Thirty runners were sent to hospital, with half discharged by 2.30pm. In addition, 411 runners were treated for cramps, 425 required bandaging and one was treated for dehydration.
Last year, 37 runners were sent to hospital, while in 2012 one man died - the first fatality since 2006.
Of the record 73,201 entrants, about 65,000 turned up to the start line for the full marathon, half-marathon and 10-kilometre events, prompting organisers to predict the event would grow amid "demand from the people of Hong Kong".
Organisers also urged the government to authorise a better route and longer road closures, to cope with increased demand and give competitors more time to complete the course.
Time restrictions prevented four of the six participants in the 10-kilometre wheelchair race from finishing.
"Judging from the level of demand, we feel we have to look at the road-closure issue again," said Benjamin Hung Pi-cheng, executive director and chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong).
"I have been involved from the outset  and this race has grown from just 1,000 runners to 73,000 today with, more importantly, the quota being filled in only three hours," Hung said.
"It just gets better and better every year and goes to show how commonplace running is becoming, and also about Hong Kong people's acceptance of striking a balance between working hard and being health conscious," Hung said.
Ethiopian Gemeda Feyera won the men's marathon in two hours, 15 minutes and five seconds, while compatriot Rehima Kedir took the honours in the women's marathon in 2:34:53.
"I'm thrilled because I only started running marathons four years ago and this is the biggest win of my career," said the 27-year-old Feyera, who won a purse of US$65,000.
Kedir, making her first appearance in the city, won a cheque for the same amount.
"I thought the other women would just be too strong, but this is the best I have raced," she said.
Since the handover, the race has traditionally been started by the chief executive, but this year Leung excused himself.
He has denied that the decision was due to political issues with the race sponsor. Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-sing stood in for Leung.