Quick riches attracting Kenyan hopefuls looking to cash in on China's marathon scene
Long-distance athletes, who base themselves in Hong Kong, target the vast sums on offer from the mainland's burgeoning running scene
Kenya's famed long-distance runners have discovered a new Eldorado in China's burgeoning athletics scene, with the prizes on offer for some races five to 10 times what they might typically earn in a year in other professions in their own country.
Stanley Cheruiyot Teimet and Bett Kipngetich are among those hoping to get rich by running quick, and Hong Kong is proving an attractive base to launch forays into the mainland.
They blitzed the field in the ninth staging of the Tolo Harbour 10km on Sunday, using the event as a speed session in the build-up to next month's Dalian Marathon in China.
Cheruiyot Teimet crossed the finish line in 32 minutes and 20 seconds, just one second faster than Kipngetich.
"Although this course is generally flat and fast, the turning points slow you down quite a bit, so it's hard to set a really fast time here," said 34-year-old Cheruiyot Teimet who, like Kipngetich, hails from the Kenyan distance running capital of Eldoret.
"As I will be racing in Dalian in less than a month, we decided to use this race as a speed session, so it was very good preparation for me.
Cheruiyot Teimet is using Hong Kong as a base from which to prepare for races in mainland China, and Kipngetich joined him several weeks ago having spent three months in Malaysia.
"Hong Kong is the perfect base for us as we get visa-free access for stays of up to three months," Cheruiyot Teimet said. "We also have one-year China business visas, so we can travel there to compete without any unnecessary restrictions."
Cheruiyot Teimet said he was hoping to place in the top two in Dalian next month where the winner would pick up a cheque for US$30,000 - big money in Kenya, where GDP per capita is US$1,800.
"Even the second place prize money is US$20,000, so this is an important race for me," he added "We will both go back home after the Dalian event and will return to Hong Kong in the late summer to prepare for two big city marathons, one of which will probably be the Shanghai Marathon.
"The races in China are very well organised and have lots of sponsorship, so for professional athletes like us they are ideal, as there are only two marathons in Kenya. Dalian has a total field of 30,000 runners, but only around 25 elite athletes.
"If everything goes well in training, I expect to earn in excess of US$50,000 this year, and basing myself in Hong Kong will help me to do that.
"One of my friends made more than US$100,000 from mid-2013 to mid-2014 racing in China, so that is my target," Cheruiyot Teimet said.
Julie Beatty won sunday's women's race in a time of 40:05. The 39-year-old mother of three, and winner of the recent 50km event in Central, overtook the runner-up, Fan Ka-king, midway through the race to win by a 12-second margin. "To be honest the 10km distance is a bit short for me - I prefer something a bit longer," Beatty said.