Reigning Hong Kong Marathon champion Mike Kiprotich Mutai targeting course record
Kenyan has his eyes on bonus prize after winning life-changing amount of money in last year’s race
Last year’s Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon was literally life-changing for Kenyan Mike Kiprotich Mutai, and the 2016 winner warned his rivals he’s targeting the course record on Sunday.
The 29-year-old from Eldoret, the town in Kenya that is synonymous with long-distance running, took home US$65,000 (HK$504,000) for his win last year, a huge sum in a place where the average monthly wage is less than the equivalent of HK$5,000.
And Mutai said he’s made Hong Kong the sole focus of his training year, with his eye not just on the US$65,000 winner’s prize but also the US$10,000 (HK$77,000) bonus for a time faster than two hours 10 minutes.
Mutai had previously won a marathon in Chongqing, but last year’s victory was by far his biggest prize and has helped transform the fortunes of his family and their farm.
“I’m targeting below 2:10:00,” said the softly-spoken runner as organisers unveiled an elite特field of more than 20 overseas runners, most from the long-distance strongholds of Kenya and Ethiopia.
For many in the poverty-stricken town on a plateau some 2,100 metres above the Rift Valley, long-distance running has become a hugely transformative family trade, and Mutai is among them.
“Last time I shared the money with my family, my two sisters and four brothers and also my own wife and children of course and it makes a huge difference,” said Mutai.
“Currently it is helping to pay my wife’s tuition at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton, where she’s studying to be a nutritionist and dietician.”
Last year Mutai and the rest of the field competed in a freezing monsoon, conditions reckoned to be the worst in the race’s 20-year history.
But it didn’t seem to hamper him as he sprinted clear in the last 400 metres in a thrilling finish to take the title in 2:12:12.
With the weather forecast to be clear and dry on Sunday, temperatures between 13 to 19 Celsius, conditions could not be better for the African contingent to make an assault on the race records (2:11:27 for men, 2:30:12 for women, both set in 2012).
And Mutai said his number one goal this season has been to do just that.
“My PB is 2:09:50, and hopefully I can beat that,” he said. “I really like Hong Kong, I have friends here and I think the course suits me.
“I ran marathons in Marrakesh and China since Hong Kong, but I was just pacemaking for friends in those, Hong Kong has always been my main focus and I hope to run a very good time.”
Among those looking to dethrone Mutai is compatriot Moses Ndiema Masai, an Olympian in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 in the 10,000m who has switched to the marathon in recent years.
“I’m feeling good, it’s great to be here in Hong Kong and I hope to run a PB,” said Masai, who missed out on a bronze medal in Beijing by a hair. His marathon best is 2:10:36 (third place in Dusseldorf, 2014).
“I like hard courses like this one and often train on hills back in Kenya, so hopefully it will suit me. It will all depend on the race start and how my body feels, but victory would be a massive achievement for me.”
His wife, Doris Chepkwemoi Changeywo, is also making her debut in Hong Kong and hoping to dethrone reigning champion Letebrhan Haylay Gebreslasea from Ethiopia.
“I have never run with these ladies before so I don’t know who is strong, but it’s great to be here for the first time,” said the 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist (10,000m), who won the Singapore Marathon in 2015 in a slow time (2:44:26) but has since put up a PB of 2:31:50.
Shy reigning champion Gebreslasea followed up her win last year with victory in the Rotterdam Marathon (2:26:15) and is likely the one to beat again.
“It looks like conditions will be much better than last year and I’m ready to do my best,” said the Ethiopian, who won in 2:36:51 last year.
Hong Kong favourite Christy Yiu Kit-ching, who ran 2:36:11 at the Rio Olympics last summer, will not take part this year as she is pregnant. Hard Tsui Chi-kin, top local male the last two years in a row, is back to go for the hat-trick.