Elite runners up the ante for locals in HK50 event
Impressive field of international athletes, especially women, set to test Hongkongers
Hong Kong's popularity as a drawcard for Asia's mountain running gathers momentum with elite internationals joining 1,000 athletes in the MSIG HK50 in Sai Kung on Saturday.
But it would be the women, not the men, who deserved attention, said race director Michael Maddess of Action Asia Events.
America's Cassie Scallon, Italy's Allessandra Carlini and Filipino Baby Marites BitBit raise the stakes in the women's field, dominated by local runner Russian Olya Korzh. They face competition from local Jo Jo Fan Siu-ping and potential dark horse from China Zheng Dan.
"The number of women taking part in these events is on the increase," said Maddess. "It's encouraging - the women's field in Hong Kong is definitely getting more competitive."
The local male runners also face international pressure, with 2012 Australian ultrarunner of the year Brendan Davies and Britain's vertical racing record holder, Stu Air.
From the rest of Asia comes last year's HK50 top placers, Russian Pavel Tarapov and American Rudy Gilmore, who live and train in China's Yunnan province, along with Russian Petr Novotny from Taiwan.
Awarded membership of the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF) last year, the HK50 series is of growing international importance, despite only being in its second year. The top man and woman will represent Hong Kong in the ISF world championships in France in June.
For Sophia Tam and Wong Ho-fai, representing Hong Kong in the world championships would be a dream come true.
But 39-year-old Tam, a pharmacist, questions her readiness. "There is a difference between the dream and the reality: I don't think I'm ready and competent for such a world event," said Tam.
Wong, 29, who works in marketing, is more positive. "The field in Hong Kong is very competitive because runners have the advantage of our hilly landscapes, country parks and easy access."