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Previews15 Jan 2016

Favourites Gemeda and Jelela face tough opposition in Hong Kong


Feyera Gemeda ahead of the 2016 Hong Kong Marathon (© Organisers)

At the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, which celebrates its 20th anniversary on Sunday, Ethiopia’s Feyera Gemeda is looking to return to the form that brought him victory in 2014 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Gemeda’s triumph here two years ago was a gamble which paid off handsomely. The Ethiopian was not an official entry, but he paid US $1000 for an air ticket, slept on a colleague’s hotel room floor, ran away from the field in the last five kilometres, and netted the US $65,000 first prize.

Having set a PB of 2:11:45 in Toulouse the previous year, he followed up with a 1:00:29 half marathon clocking in the Chinese city of Yangzhou and another victory in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He returns this year after missing the 2015 Hong Kong race with a leg injury, yet is no more convinced of potential victory than he was last time – which could bode ill for his opponents.

“There are lots of other good Ethiopians, and good Kenyans here this time, and I don’t feel in top form, so it might be more difficult to win on Sunday,” he said at the press conference held with the impressive backdrop of a junk floating in the harbour. The proposed trip around the harbour had to be cancelled due to an impromptu rainstorm, which left Gemeda worrying about Sunday’s potential weather, which at a likely 14-18C, with a 6:15am start, seems ideal.

Gemeda’s principal opposition will be compatriots Fikre Assefa, who finished second last year after making most of the running, and Megersa Bacha who ran a personal best of 2:06:56 in Paris in 2013.

Then, almost inevitably, there will be the Kenyans, given that the East African neighbours have provided winners in more than half of the previous 19 editions since the race was revived in 1997. Albert Matebor is the fastest man in the field with the 2:05:25 he clocked to finish third at the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon. Samuel Mwaniki, Robert Kipchumba, Cosmas Mutuku, Laurence Cherono and Isaac Kosgei have all run faster than 2:10.

Jelela confident of first post-return victory

In contrast to men’s favourite Gemeda, Koren Jelela was uncharacteristically confident of her chances of victory in the women’s race. It’s more than four years since Jelela clocked her PB of 2:22:43, set when winning the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but she said: “My training is very good at the moment; I feel strong, and think I will run well.”

After a couple of low-key appearances in the first half of 2015, Jelela ended her comeback year with a third-place finish at the Frankfurt Marathon in October in a time of 2:23:52, her second-fastest to date.

Her likeliest opposition is from her compatriots Tsehay Desalegn, who finished third here last year, and Letebrhan Haylay Gebreslasea, who finished fourth in what was her debut at the distance before going on to reduce her PB to 2:25:24 in Prague.

Fellow Ethiopian Askale Tafa’s best form goes back even further than Jelela, to 2007-8, when she won Dubai, Paris and Milan, and recorded a PB of 2:21:31 to finish second in Berlin. But two years off following the birth of her son, Kena, have given her new impetus to train.

The principal European challenge comes from former race walker Volha Mazuronak of Belarus, who ran 2:25:36 in London last year, and Lithuania’s Rasa Drazdausakaite, who finished 11th in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.

Sunday’s marathon and ancillary events will involve 74,000 runners, making it by far the largest event in south east Asia.

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF