Hong Kong debutant from Ethiopia, Sentayehu Merga, heads back to Addis Ababa US$65,000 richer after taking men’s title

By Alvin Sallay |

The barricades were back out on Hennessy Road in Causeway Bay on Sunday, but there were no Occupy protesters around. Instead, they were keeping a large crowd off the streets, allowing Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Merga Ejigu to race to victory in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon.

Breathing down his neck were countryman Fikre Assefa Robi and Kenyan Robert Kipkorir Kipchumba, but Merga, a first-time competitor, wasn’t to be denied a well-deserved victory as he continued a long African dominance in the men’s marathon to win in two hours and 13 minutes.

There was a surprise in the women’s race, as North Korean Kim Hye-gyong held off a powerful contingent of Africans to win.

Sentayehu Merga“It wasn’t my best time but I’m more than happy to beat this strong field of runners,” Merga said. “I could have run faster but there was a strong wind and that hampered me a bit.”

Forced to run the middle stages harder than usual thanks to a bold approach by adventurous Japanese Shingo Igarashi, Merga came close to beating the course record set by countryman Dejere Abera in 2012.

Igarashi broke with standard practice when he made a break early in the race, sprinting clear of the field in an attempt to build a lead and hang on. The tactic worked fine for three-quarters of the race but it was all in vain as the juggernaut of African runners steadily reeled him in.

The pack hunted Igarashi down around the 32km mark – two kilometres before the Western Harbour Tunnel – and soon overtook him. But the Japanese runner had done the field a favour forcing the rest to step up.

For his pains, Igarashi was crowned winner of the Asian Championships, finishing in a time of 2:14.29.

“We had to run faster to catch him. The conditions were good and it was unfortunate that the record didn’t fall,” said Julius Maisei, a champion in 2013 who finished fourth yesterday.

In 2012, Abera won the race in 2:11.27 to set a new record. Merga was short by 93 seconds.

But Sentayehu Merga was not complaining with the winner’s purse being pumped up to US$65,000 – US$8,000 more as organisers try to make the Hong Kong Marathon more attractive to top-quality runners.

Sentayehu Merga, who runs for the Police Club (“I’m not a policeman, I just run for the club”) in Addis Ababa, had his work cut out at the end with compatriot Robi and Kenya’s Kipchumba five and seven seconds behind.

“We were trying our best to catch him but he was too strong for us,” said third-placed Kipchumba, his face failing to hide the rivalry that exists between the two African nations.

Last year, Ethiopian runners dominated in both the men’s and women’s marathons. That was not the case yesterday as Kim triumphed in 2:31.46 ahead of two Ethiopians.

“Defeating them will do my confidence a whole deal of good, especially if I’m picked to represent my country at the world championships,” Kim, 23, said.

In the men’s Asian Championships, North Korean Pak Chol and Mongolian Olonbayar Jamsran finished second and third respectively behind Igarashi.

Source: South China Morning Post

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