Report16 Feb 2014

Ethiopian enterprise pays dividends in Hong Kong


Feyera Gemeda wins the 2014 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon (© Organisers)

Some shrewd investing by Ethiopian runners Feyera Gemeda and Rehima Kedir paid off handsomely when they won at the 2014 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday (16).

Neither was on the list of official invitees, but they wagered more than a thousand dollars each on air fares from their base in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to the Chinese Special Administrative Region.

The Ethiopians both pocketed US$65,000 for their wins in 2:15:05 and 2:34:53; their initiative yielded the sort of profit you don’t see often on the stock market nowadays.

Neither had raced in Hong Kong before, and with Kenya’s defending men’s champion Julius Maisei sounding confident of an unprecedented second successive men’s victory here, Gemeda bided his time near the head of a group of more than 20 that went through halfway in a slow 70 minutes.

Speaking through an interpreter later, Gemeda said: “I was waiting for Maisei to push the pace, to see how last year’s winner would go, and there were some others there who had faster times than my personal best. But it was never too fast, and I was able to go to the front myself a couple of times. Then when we got to 37k, I saw I could win”.

At 37km, the group had been whittled down to five, with Maisei still trying to impress himself on the others. However, when Gemeda accelerated with five kilometres to go, Maisei was the first to drop off the leading group.

“I thought I could become to the first man to win twice, and I tried. But my muscles tied up at the end, and they were too strong for me today,” reflected Maisei, who eventually finished fifth.

In the meantime, the race had devolved into a scrap between two Ethiopians, Gemeda and Bedada Abdisa Sori, and two other Kenyans, Elisha Kiprop and Willy Kibor.

But Gemeda was not to be denied. He sped away over the remaining four kilometres, running the second half of the race five minutes faster than the first to win in 2:15:05, with Bedada Abdisa second in 2:15:11, one second ahead of Kibor.

“Financially, this is my best result ever,” said Gemeda, “but my personal best is not fast enough (2:11:45 in Toulouse five months ago), I want to run faster elsewhere. I’ll help my family with this money, but I’ll also use it to take care of myself, and prepare well to run fast somewhere. I didn’t prepare specially for this race, but if the organisers invite me back next year, to defend, I’ll make sure I’ll be well prepared.”

Kedir took the women’s title for her second marathon victory in a row, following a win in Beirut last November.

She too had to beat the defending champion, her compatriot Misiker Mekonnin Demissie, who was going for a hat trick of wins and failed by just 12 seconds to do so.

“I felt OK for 20k, but then I tired, and couldn’t reply when Rehima took the lead,” said Mekonnin Demissie.

Nevertheless, Kedir said she wasn’t confident of victory until the closing stages.

Kedir won in 2:34:53, with Mekonnin second in 2:35:05, and a third Ethiopian, Shitaye Gemechu, third in 2:35:18.

“I could feel my hamstring pulling at 32k, but it didn’t get any worse, and at 41k, I felt I could win," said Kedir. "But before the race, I didn’t think I had any chance; there were several women with faster times than me.

"I’d like to run a race like Boston next, but I’d be very happy to come back to Hong Kong next year."

With another pay day like that in prospect, who wouldn’t?

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF