Yuta Koyama overcomes tough field to win men's Hong Kong half-marathon
Yuta Koyama couldn't believe the amount of participants in yesterday's races, but he didn't let it distract him as he surged to an impressive half-marathon victory.
The Japanese runner finished in 1:08.49, well ahead of Hong Kong's Thomas Kiprotich (1:11.23) and John Duenas of the Philippines (1:13.18).
Koyama was given an invite by organisers after finishing second in the inaugural Mount Fuji Marathon last November, and admitted nothing in Japan compared to the scale of Hong Kong, which took a record entry of 72,000, although 10,000 failed to show up.
By comparison, around 5,000 of the 23,000 registered competitors in that Mount Fuji race failed to make the start line because of traffic jams after organisers failed to plan properly.
There were no such problems yesterday, of course, and Koyama flew through the crowds for the biggest win of his running career.
"In terms of numbers of people this is the biggest race I've ever been to," said Koyama. "There're not many big races in Japan.
"When the 10km and the half-marathon fields joined together it was a great atmosphere with all the people around. It was really well organised because the number of people is amazing."
Koyama was also somewhat taken aback by the nature of the course, but it clearly didn't affect him too much as he opened a gap around the 11km mark that he never gave up. "This is the first time I've run the race so the change in elevation was a bit of a surprise to me.
"I did a spot of sightseeing yesterday and I hope to see the rest of the city tonight. My next race is the Nagano marathon in Japan and hopefully I can continue this form."
Kiprotich also finished second last year, to Gi Ka-man (absent injured this year), and felt he might have put up more of a challenge were it not for a strained neck.
"When he [Koyama] took off I didn't even resist, I just let him go," said Kiprotich. "I didn't even want to risk it. Three days ago I had a neck problem and I didn't want to strain it. I said let me run at a pace that I know will get me to the finish line. I always know at the first kilometre who is strong. I put in a strong first kick and he was the only person with me, I thought, 'Hang on, he's dangerous'. Every time I tried to open a gap he was with me and I knew, this guy's very fast.
"If it wasn't for the neck I might have had a better chance. I've had this problem since October. It went away then it came back on Thursday. I saw the doctor and a physio - they didn't even bother telling me not to run, though, they knew if they did I'd run anyway!
"This is the start of the year. Yes, it's a big race, but it's not more important than my health and the rest of the season."