Kenyan Julius Maisei is back for Marathon with history on his mind
Defending champion is eager to set a record by winning back-to-back races
A confident defending men's champion Julius Maisei is back because he wants to start building his home in Eldoret, Kenya with "hopefully the prize money which I will win on Sunday".
In the 17 years of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, no men's champion has returned to successfully defend his crown. Maisei wants to be the first so that he can get cracking on laying the foundation for his future home.
"With my first prize money last year, I returned home and brought a quarter-of-an-acre of land in my town, Eldoret. Now I hope I can win on Sunday again so that I can start building my house," said the 33-year-old Maisei.
"Apart from my house, I also want to be the first man to win two marathons in a row."
Maisei will have a tough time achieving his dreams because assembled for tomorrow's 6.10am start is a strong field: with organisers bidding to claim IAAF "Gold Label" status next year, they have invited a number of runners who have registered times of below two hours and 10 minutes.
"Yes, I know it is going to be hard. It is a strong field but I will try to do my best," said the upbeat Kenyan. "I like coming to China, this has been a lucky place for me."
After winning in Hong Kong last year, in 2:14:18, and pocketing US$57,000, Maisei ran twice on the mainland twice, winning both races, before finishing a profitable 2013 by winning the Macau Marathon in December, in 2:12:43.
"Hong Kong is one of the toughest races but I expect the times will be faster this year. I believe I will have to run 2:12 if I'm to win it, two minutes faster than last year. But the weather is good and hopefully I can do it," said Maisei, having set his eyes on the increased prize money - the winners of the men's and women's marathons will get US$65,000.
"It is an attractive purse. We have increased our overall prize money by something like US$50,000 to US$300,000 as we try to get better quality runners to town, and I think we have succeeded in doing that this year," said William Ko Wai-lam, head of the organising committee.
While no man has repeated, in the women's category Kenya's Misiker Demissie has won the last two editions. She has been invited back for an attempt to go for the hat-trick but had not arrived as of Friday.
If Demissie fails to turn up, another Kenyan, 33-year-old Emily Chepkemoi, a first-time visitor to Hong Kong, is one of the favourites to win.
"This is an amazing place and I'm very happy that I was invited to run here. I would love to win this race but from what I have heard it is not going to be easy," said Chepkemoi, who won the Barcelona Marathon in 2012 with a personal best 2:26:52.
A record crowd of 73,000 runners have registered in all three categories - marathon, half marathon and 10 kilometres - as well as the wheelchair races, with the forecast for rain.
"Rain is okay but wind is not good," said Michelle Lowry, bidding to be the top local woman.