Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2016

African stars shrug off wild weather to dominate Hong Kong Marathon

Worst conditions in history of the race, but that can’t prevent long-distance kings and queens of Kenya and Ethiopia from filling the podiums

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 January, 2016, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 January, 2016, 4:43pm

The weather might have been unfamiliar, but one thing remained the same at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon as East African runners dominated.

The race, like most long-distance events around the world, has turned into a nice little cash cow – literally so in the case of competitors who turn their cheques into livestock – for athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya; four runners from the first country and two from the second stood on the podium this year.

Both men’s and women’s full marathons were decided by thrilling sprint finishes over the last 50 metres, following 42.145 kilometres or so in the cold, wind and wet: this was the event’s 20th anniversary edition, and seasoned observers agreed that it was by far the worst weather they’d ever seen.

READ MORE: Click here for all our Hong Kong Marathon coverage 

Mike Kiprotich Mutai of Kenya took the men’s title in two hours, 12 minutes and 12 seconds, crossing the line a stride or two ahead of his countryman Lawrence Cherono (2:12:14). Third was the 2012 winner Feyera Gemeda of Ethiopia (2:12:20).

WATCH: Reaction from the winners in Hong Kong 
The women’s race was a one-two-three for Ethiopia, with Haylay Gebreslasea finishing just ahead of Lemma Geda, 2:36:51 to 2:36:53. Bizuayehu Gebireyes was third in 2:37:28.

READ MORE: As-it-happened recap of the day's action

Still shivering in blanket and poncho hours after the finish, Gebreslasea admitted she was just hoping to get through when she saw the conditions on the start line. Thirteen thousand of the 74,000 registered participants didn’t even get that far – only 61,000 turned up, said organisers.

“The weather was so terrible – just to finish, never mind win, was all I wanted today. I didn’t expect to win but God helped me and I’m so happy.

“The weather was so windy, rainy, humid – it was so terrible, it was so difficult. But I’m so happy. This is my fifth marathon, and I’ve never won before. Last year I was fourth here and I like the course because it’s similar to the geography in my country and where I do my training.”

I’m from a very rural area and they don’t know what running is or athletics, so I want to try to help educate them about the opportunities and produce more athletes like me
Haylay Gebreslasea

The winners took home US$65,000 each; Kiprotich just missed out on a US$5,000 bonus he would have received if he’d broken the 2:12 mark, but still heads home to Eldoret with a sum he agreed would be life-changing.

“The weather was not good but we just had to try our best,” said the 29-year-old. “Despite the conditions, I really enjoyed the race. The conditions were similar to what I’ve trained in in Kenya, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

“I won the Chongqing marathon before [2013], but this is the biggest I’ve ever won. I have a farm and the money will help improve it and help my family.”

Gebreslasea, 26, was fourth last year in her debut at the distance, and runner-up in Shanghai last November. She aims to use some of her winnings to spread the word about the riches on offer in running.

“I want to help others who don’t have the chance to run and help them understand what athletics is,” she said. “I’m from a very rural area and they don’t know what running is or athletics, so I want to try to help educate them about the opportunities and produce more athletes like me.”