Ethiopians' team tactics work a treat as Gemada Heyera savours victory
Chilly weather and winning time a little slower than last year's fail to dampen late bloomer's delight on his first visit to the city
Late bloomer Gemada Feyera dashed the dreams of Julius Maisei - bidding to become the first man to defend the title - to win the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon yesterday.
Feyera and his Ethiopian countryman, Abdisa Bedada Sori, worked perfectly as a team to first tag and then out-run Kenya's Maisei as the showpiece event once again ended in the iron grip of runners from Africa.
Feyera's winning time was two hours, 15 minutes and five seconds, almost a minute slower than last year's effort by Maisei.
"I had a simple plan. This was the first time I was running this race so I decided I would stay in touch with the defending champion. I thought he would know best what it takes to win.
"And when I got my chance, I took it. I'm thrilled, for I only started running marathons four years ago and this is the biggest win of my career," said the 27-year-old Feyera, who will take home US$65,000.
"That is enough to change our lives," said second-placed Sori, a close friend of Feyera who also hails from the capital, Addis Ababa.
"I tried to push forward and beat him but my legs were not willing. My hamstrings were hurting," said Sori, who finished six seconds behind the champion. Both the Ethiopians were running for the first time in Hong Kong.
That was not the case with Maisei, who on his fourth visit to Hong Kong also brought along his wife, Irene, to "enjoy the world as she has never travelled away from home".
The goal of becoming the first man to defend the Hong Kong crown was obviously an incentive but Maisei's main target was the prize money - US$8,000 more than what he won last year - so he could get cracking on laying the foundation for a home for Irene, himself and their two small daughters.
Last year's winnings were used to buy a block in his hometown of Eldoret, 300km from Nairobi. "I guess I will have to wait now [before building]," Maisei shrugged.
Despite coming out of the Western Harbour Tunnel in front of a pack of nine runners, whittled down from a group of more than 20, Maisei failed to kick on and was soon reeled in by the Ethiopian pair, as well as two more Kenyans - Elisha Kiprop Barno and Willy Kibor Koitile who finished third and fourth - to finish fifth in 2:15:45.
"It is a pity I could not win, but I'm happy I gave it my best shot," Maisei said. "It would have been nice to win in front of my wife. She had never travelled out of Kenya and it was the first time for flying, a huge adventure. I'm happy I brought her."
Irene Jerop was all nerves as she watched the race unfold on the giant television screen at the finish line in Victoria Park. "I was anxious watching him run. This was some experience for me. But I miss my two babies back home and want to go back as soon as I can."
Maisei still banked US$6,000, but had to watch the lion's share go to Feyera, who had only taken up running after watching the sport on television.
"I wanted to emulate some of my famous countryman [like Haile Gebreselassie] and that is why I decided, four years ago, to get out from the front of the TV and start running," said Feyera, whose personal best is 2:11:45, set last October at the Toulouse Marathon.
"It was hard to go better than that today. The course is tough, very hilly and I couldn't go faster. Maybe I will train harder for next year and come back to defend my title," said Feyera, bitten by the Hong Kong bug like Maisei and many others.
Ethiopians swept the top three places in the women's marathon. Rehima Kedir won in 2:34:53, beating last year's winner Misker Demissie by 12 seconds. Demissie had been hoping to complete a hat-trick.
Gemechu Debellu was third in 2:35:18.