Boosting prize money 'key to raising marathon's profile'

A significant increase in prize purse is needed to upgrade local marathon to gold label and draw world's top runners, says HKAAA chief

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 5:33am

A significant boost in prize money is the key to raising the profile of tomorrow's Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon and placing it among the world's elite, says a top official.

As nearly 40 invited runners from 22 countries arrived to chase total prize money of US$258,400 in the showpiece event, Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association chairman Kwan Kee says they have more to achieve than just being one of the top races in Asia.

We must increase our purse if we are to attract the world's top runners," Kwan said yesterday. We are one of the top races in Asia, but we have to now look at the international stage

We must increase our purse if we are to attract the world's top runners. We are one of the top races in Asia, but we have to now look at the international stage

In a major boost, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has upgraded Hong Kong from a bronze label road race to a silver, recognising the better calibre of athletes the event is attracting.

"We must now aim for gold label, but to do that we have to significantly raise our prize money," said Kwan. "We have grown from a local sporting event into a large international race. Today, both the IAAF and the government's M-Mark scheme recognises us. But we have more to achieve."

The total prize money - US$57,000 is awarded to winners in the men's and women's races - is a marginal increase from last year. But it still pales in comparison with famous marathons, including London and Berlin, which both offer US$1 million, Boston (US$800,000) and Chicago (US$500,000). Closer to home, the Seoul Marathon next month has a total purse of US$500,000, with the men's and women's winners each receiving US$80,000.

"The more money there is, more people will come," said last year's women's champion, Ethiopian Misiker Demissie. "And prize money is important and this will always be the target."

Last year Demissie took home US$85,000 - US$50,000 as the winners' purse plus US$35,000 for breaking the course record along with time bonuses. Her coach Zereu Kelele said: "This changed her life and now she is hoping to win again on Sunday. It is very important to her. Money will always lure the best to come to Hong Kong."

Apart from the invited runners, the race always attracts others who come on their own steam, as did last year's men's champion Dereje Abera. The Ethiopian has been invited back to defend his crown tomorrow.

Last year seven male runners smashed the course record, which had stood for 14 years, while the women's record was also lowered.

Benjamin Hung Pi-cheng, chief executive of Standard Chartered (Hong Kong), stressed the increase in the event's quality. "We have set another record in terms of numbers participating, but it is less about quantity and more about quality," Hung said.

"We have gained more recognition internationally and made this event more inclusive. We now have a wheelchair race and this is also a big charitable event. Last year we raised more than HK$5 million and I hope we can exceed that this time. This is a marathon with a heart."