Hong Kong Marathon organisers admit they won’t know which top overseas runners will take part until 'last minute'
‘Gold Label’ Kenyan and Ethiopian runners on flights to take part in annual extravaganza but organisers unclear who they are
Organisers of Sunday’s Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon admit that they’ll only know how many of the top overseas runners they have invited will participate once they actually arrive.
Just as in previous years, getting a confirmed start list for the runners from Kenya and Ethiopia, the top two running nations in the world that have dominated the Hong Kong marathon for years, have been a headache for organisers.
William Ko Wai-lam, chairman of the organising committee, said organisers will not know who will start the race until they are in Hong Kong and the list can change “at the last minute”.
“As far as the overseas runners are concerned, it won’t be until they have physically arrived in Hong Kong that I can guarantee who will be coming,” said Ko.
“This is one of the problems we have to face. But the situation will be better this year because our marathon has been awarded Gold Label status for the first time. We have fulfilled certain IAAF [International Amateur Athletics Federation] requirements and they have awarded this to us for our 2016 marathon,” he said.
Ko explained that so far 10 Gold Label athletes – five men and five women – are on flights coming to Hong Kong this week for the event for the 20th anniversary edition of the city’s biggest mass-participation event.
Gold Label runners are athletes who have attained a time of two hours, 10 minutes or under in the marathon for men and 2:28 and under for women.
Organisers have invited defending men’s champion Ejigu Sentayehu Merga and 2014 champion Feyera Gemeda, both from Ethiopia, but it is unclear whether they have booked flights to compete here.
Also invited was Kenyan Albert Kiplagat Matebor, whose best time of 2:05:25 would make him the fastest entrant in the field should he make the start.
Last year’s women’s winner, Kim Kye-gyong of North Korea, has been invited along with Ethiopia’s Meselech Melakamu, who has a personal best time of 2:21:01.
“Kenya and Ethiopia have a lot of Gold Label runners so it all depends who will come,” said Ko.
“They have many agencies who send their athletes [to marathons] so that’s why we have to be very careful in our selection of runners. Most of the marathons in the world have been dominated by the Kenyans and Ethiopians.
"We always have attractive prize money which will give them incentive to come,” he said, adding that the marathon winners in the men’s and women’s races will each receive US$65,000.
Prize money will also be awarded to runners, who finish within the “time bonus” time with US$10,000 awarded to runners who finish 2:10 or under for men and 2:28 and under for women.
Ko said some countries might send their top runners in order to attain the Olympic qualifying times, but he warned runners will face a difficult time.
“Our route is a very tough one involving more than 100 metres in elevation. So it’s a very tough race. For example at the top of the Tsing Ma Bridge it’s 70 metres and underneath the Western Crossing Tunnel is 30 metres so we are talking about 100 metres [in elevation]. It will be a great challenge for not only the top runners but for all the runners,” he said.
The route for the marathon has been changed slightly to accommodate more runners and give them wider space to run.
“This is the first time that we have the extended route, starting in Tsim Sha Tsui with the marathon running all way to Argyle Street and then turning into Cherry Street. That has given us a lot of challenges in terms of logistics arrangements,” said Ko.
About 74,000 runners are expected to take part in the 10k, half-marathon and marathon.