Dancing Belachew sets Hong Kong Marathon record


2017 Stanchart Hong Kong Marathon winner, Bizuneh Melaku Belachew (front) and runner-up Julius Kipyego Kipketer dance ...
2017 Stanchart Hong Kong Marathon winner, Bizuneh Melaku Belachew (front) and runner-up Julius Kipyego Kipketer dance after finishing the race on Sunday, February 12, 2017. PHOTO/Organisers

 

Ethiopia’s Bizuneh Melaku Belachew danced on the finish line as he smashed his personal best to win the Hong Kong Marathon Sunday in a new course record.

The 27-year-old performed a jig to celebrate with the runner-up, Kenya’s Julius Kipyego Keter, who finished just three seconds behind, because “I’m so happy”.

Belachew slashed almost a minute off the course record to cross the line in two hours, 10 minutes and 31 seconds.

“I was not expecting to break the course record but after 33 kilometres I thought it is possible – and I did it,” he said.

Belachew, who paid his own expenses to join the race, now plans to buy a house in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with his US$65,000 winner’s cheque.

Belachew was rushing for a flight back to Addis Ababa, his US$1,000 investment in travelling for the race paying off 70-fold. Had he broken 2:10:00 he’d have landed another US$5,000.

“I’m so, so glad with the money,” he added. “After winning Ningbo as well this year has been good fortune for me and I’ll use the money to buy myself a house in Addis Ababa.”

Belachew added of his Kenyan rival: “I didn’t know him before but he’s my friend now. We celebrated together.”

His time, a new PB, was nearly a minute faster than the previous record set by compatriot Dejere Abera in 2012, although direct comparisons are somewhat misleading as the course has changed since.

Belachew said he felt unstoppable coming down the Western Highway and decided to go for the record.

“I wasn’t expecting that before I came here but after 33km I felt it was possible and went for it. The weather was perfect and I had a great time.

“By about the 40km mark I knew Kipyego was tired and I still had plenty of power. I said, ‘I have to win this race,’ it was all mental,” Belachew added.

Last year’s men’s champion, Mike Kiprotich Mutai of Kenya, came sixth and told AFP the recent loss of his mother took the shine off his performance.

“I didn’t train for the last two weeks,” he said. “But I didn’t want to drop out. I was running for my family.”

-Ethiopian double-

Ethiopia also claimed first place in the women’s race, with Gulume Tollesa Chala crossing the line in 2:33:39.

Gulume won the Frankfurt Marathon in 2015 and was second in Paris and the Gold Coast in 2016, though her prize money from Hong Kong will beat all of those payouts combined. No wonder her husband – also her coach – seemed a happy man as he translated for her.

“The weather conditions were great and it was very nice to run in,” she said after finishing ahead of Betelhem Moges Cherenet of Kenya (2:33:49) and last year’s Ethiopian winner Letebrhan Haylay Gebreslasea.

“I won Frankfurt in 2:27 so today was a bit slower but I’m delighted with the win,” she said. “We’ll build a new home for the family with the money and maybe start some sort of business, a shop or market.”

The 42 km course was run under blue skies Sunday in contrast to the heavy rain which drenched last year’s event.

However, pollution levels in the city were classed as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” with the Air Quality Index at 126.

And the event was marred when a 52-year-old woman collapsed on the finish line after completing the 10 km race. She was in critical condition in hospital, the South China Morning Post reported.

Two men, aged 46 and 23, were also in critical condition, the paper added, while other local media said a total of 11 runners had been taken to hospital.

Among the 74,000 runners pounding the streets was Cantopop star Stephanie Cheng who took on the 10km.

“The crowds were great today — a lot of college students — and the weather was perfect,” she said.

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