HONG KONG, January 17 – The 20th Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon saw a thrilling finale with the IAAF Gold Label Road Race only being decided in the final 400 metres when Kenya’s Mike Kiprotich Mutai pulled clear to win by two seconds in 2:12:12 on Sunday.
Despite the runners having to battle with a monsoon -with many of the elite field saying that it was the worst conditions they had ever raced in, Mutai just edged home ahead of his compatriot Lawrence Cherono, with Ethiopia’s 2014 winner Feyera Gemeda third in 2.12.20.
Given the conditions, the trio produced excellent times, both men less than a minute shy of the course record of 2.11.27, set four years ago by Ethiopia’s Dejere Abera.
With unusual lack of circumspection for a Kenyan, Cherono – who, like the winner, comes from Eldoret – had declared himself a likely winner, whatever the conditions, prior to the race.
He was warned of the impending rain but clearly hadn’t reckoned on Mutai.
“We know each other well,” said Mutai immediately after the race which saw him notch up his third career win over the classic distance, following victories in the Danzhou and Chongqing races in mainland China in 2012 and 2014, “and I was confident I could beat him in the finish. I knew I would win from 40k”.
However, this was not evident to the spectators who still turned out in force, despite the weather. They witnessed the two men pass and re-pass each other in the last five minutes of the race, to make it a nail-biting finish.
“I still thought I was going to win,” said Cherono, “but he (Mutai) was too strong for me in the end”.
Feyera dropped off the pace at the point, just over a kilometre from home, as Mutai and Cherono began their duel, but he hung in to finish just eight seconds adrift of the winner.
The women’s race in contrast was far more sedate, although, like the men, the half dozen leaders stayed together throughout the majority of the race.
“Nobody really wanted to take the lead, because of the rain,” said eventual winner, Letebrhan Haylay Gebreslasea, who hails from Tigre in northern Ethiopia. “But I decided to try from 36k, and the group split up.”
Only her colleague, Ayelu Lemma Geda responded, and although, as in the men’s race, the gap at the end was just two seconds, Geda never got on terms with Gebreslasea and the winner wasn’t threatened down the finishing straight, as had happened in the men’s race.
Gebreslasea won in 2.36. 51 with Geda second with 2.36.53. Another Ethiopian, Ehite Bizuayehu Gebireyes was third, in 2.37.28. In the challenging conditions, local runner Yiu Kit Ching elicited plenty of cheers.
She has already been selected to represent Hong Kong at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and clocked 2.38.38 for sixth place here, only 14 seconds slower than her best, set in far more clement conditions in Prague nine months ago.