Berkane half marathon podium: winner El Hassan El Abbassi (c), runner-up Patrick Mwikya Mutunga (l) and third place finisher Kennedy Murithi Njiru (r) (© organisers)
El Hassan El Abbassi of Bahrain and Salome Nyirarukundo of Rwanda won their respective divisions at the third edition of the Berkane International Half Marathon on Sunday (2), staged in the hometown of double Olympic and four-time world champion Hicham El Guerrouj.
El Abbassi, the winner last year, successfully defended his title in 1:01:31, finishing ahead of Kenyans Patrick Mwikya Mutunga and Kennedy Murithi Njiru who clocked 1:02:13 and 1:02:19, respectively.
Nyirarukundo, a 5000m finalist at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016, won the women's race in 1:11:30, a national record for Rwanda. Gudeta Bekelech of Ethiopia was second in 1:11:53 with Kenyan Gladys Jepkemoi third, clocking 1:12:31.
The programme consisted of three events: the half marathon, in which national and international athletes competed; a locally-oriented 10km, where participants ran with family and friends; and a 10km walk, designed to encourage older community members to participate.
The curtain-raiser for the event was a 'Kids Day' competition open to children under 17. A race for children with special needs was held independently, whose aim was to encourage social integration through sport.
El Guerrouj, the president of the Beni Znassen Association for Culture, Development & Solidarity, is aiming to make the Berkane event "a dream race, a race as a source of inspiration", whose main objective is to popularise the culture of sport in the region especially among those living on the fringes of society.
The race paid tribute to many Moroccan champions of the past who have made their mark on the national and international sports scene, including Abdeslam Radi, the 1960 Olympic silver medallist in the marathon and Morocco's first Olympic medallist, and El Ghazi Zaaraoui, the 1966 world cross country champion. Olympic champions Said Aouita and Nawal El Moutawakel, a member of the IAAF Council, were also in attendance.
Also honoured were Lahcen Akka Samsam, shot put silver medallist at the 1971 Mediterranean Games and former African record holder in the event; Bakir Benaissa, a two-time Mediterranean Games champion in the marathon; Haddou Jadour, a Mediterranean Games bronze and silver medallist in the 5000m; and Hassania Darami, a former African record holder in the 10,000m.
Mohamed Bencharif for the IAAF