Hong Kong Marathon is big but we lack a marathon culture to produce quality athletes, says top runner Tsui Chi-kin
- Tsui’s 2:24:43 in Berlin Marathon was one of the best performances by a Hong Kong runner
- The only professional marathon runner in Hong Kong trained in Nairobi before Berlin and will train in Japan in a bid to raise his standards
Hong Kong needs a better marathon culture to improve standards and produce quality distance runners who can compete against the region’s best, according to Tsui Chi-kin – the city’s best performer in an international race at this year’s Berlin Marathon.
The 28-year-old remains the only professional runner in Hong Kong after quitting his job and turning to full-time training three years ago. He is mainly supported by his club and marathon enthusiasts.
“This is the best result of any local Chinese runner, but it means nothing when you compare it against our fellow counterparts in Asia,” said Tsui, who was training in Nairobi, Kenya before the September’s Berlin race where he finished in a time of two hours 24 minutes and 43 seconds. “It also shows how far we lag behind other countries. Yes, the annual Hong Kong marathon attracts a lot of people, but they are all at grass roots level, leisure runners. They are not at a competitive level.
“In Hong Kong, there is no marathon culture so that we can produce sufficient youngsters to come through the ranks. You can see many swimmers or cyclists start their training early in the morning in preparation for major competitions, but for many of the marathon runners, they have to start their jobs in the morning and train after office hours.”
Tsui’s time not only ranked as one of the best for the year, but it also took nine seconds off the previous mark of a Hong Kong Chinese marathon runner set by Ng Fai-yeung in 1992. Hong Kong’s best performance stands at 2:21:10, set by Paul Spowage more than three decades ago in 1984.
The training standard for marathon runners set by the Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association for 2018 is 2:17:22 and athletes must achieve this before any tangible support can be offered.
The mark was set against the Asian regional standard, according to the Association’s vice-chairman Simon Yeung Sai-mo.
Tsui said he decided to focus on full-time training because of his love for the sport.
“It was a difficult decision but I love the sport. Fortunately, all the effort paid off when I recorded my best time in Berlin this year,” said Tsui. “This is an important milestone in my career, instilling the required confidence to push me to work harder.”
Tsui once received some financial help from the Sports Institute after finishing eighth in the 2015 Asian Championship, but when he failed to repeat that performance at the next regional championship in 2017, the support ended.
“I fully understand we need to get results before we can obtain government subvention. I am not complaining about anything,” said Tsui. “But the standard of Hong Kong marathon is very low, making our lives very difficult.”
After Nairobi, Tsui plans to train in Japan, one of the powerhouses in marathon, to further improve his standards.
“Japan will be more expensive compared to Kenya, but it will be an opportunity to learn from athletes who have a similar build to that of Hong Kong runners but with much higher quality,” he said. “The result in Berlin gives me more confidence, hopefully I can find another breakthrough.”
Tsui will be training with the Ritsumeikan University in Osaka with his next target the Osaka Marathon in March, just three weeks after the annual Hong Kong Marathon.
“The up-and-down course of the Hong Kong Marathon makes it difficult for a good time,” he said. “I will come back to compete in the Hong Kong one but my target will be Osaka.”