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February 18th, 2008:

Hong Kong Marathon

Best feet forward right to the very end

Timothy Chui – Monday, February 18, 2008

A crisp winter’s morning set the stage for yesterday’s Standard Chartered Marathon in which a Japanese ended four years of domination by Kenyans.

In his first attempt at the Hong Kong marathon, Koichiro Fukuoka, 29, from Nagasaki completed the 42-kilometer race in two hours, 18 minutes and 10 seconds.

The women’s section was won by Kim Kum Ok, 20, of North Korea in two hours, 36 minutes and 43 seconds. She crossed the finishing line hand-in- hand with compatriot Jong Yong Ok, 27, who was ruled second by a judge.

Local contestants dominated the half-marathon and 10-kilometer races. Chan Ka-ho, a 23-year-old sports science student, took the men’s half marathon title in one hour, 12 minutes, breaking his own Hong Kong residents’ record set in 2006 by two seconds.

Toh So-liang won the women’s race in one hour, 27 minutes and 39 seconds.

Physical education teacher Tse Hok- ham, 25, grabbed the honors in the men’s 10km race with a winning time of 33 minutes, 42 seconds.

Clerk Leung Ying-suet, 27, was first among the women, clocking in at 38 minutes and one second.

Runners welcomed the shift of the 10km run to the Island Eastern Corridor, with many saying the flatter and straighter route had improved running times.

“I’ve been running the marathon for a decade now and it always feels like there isn’t any air down there [Western Tunnel],” said Tse.

The decision to have all three races finish in Victoria Park not only excited a normally quiet Sunday shopping crowd, but the throngs of well-wishers and onlookers also had an effect on the runners.

“I was neck and neck with a man from Japan in the last two kilometers and I was ready to give up. Then I saw the crowd shouting and cheering me on,” said Chan.

” It gave me the drive to push through and finish hard.”

Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association chairman William Ko Wai- lam said that, out of 49,686 registered runners, 42,577 took part compared with about 38,000 last year.

The completion rate for the 10km race was 98.5 percent, and 99.7 percent for the half-marathon.

Ko said these high proportions of runners finishing the race reflected the success of the event, adding that he hoped this year’s traffic arrangements could be kept for next year’s event.

The temperature – 13 degrees Celsius – was also a welcome change for the runners, with many favoring the switch to February after the muggy March weather of the 2006 and 2007 marathons.

Ko said 15 runners were hospitalized, but none was reported to be in serious condition.

Last year, more than 6,000 runners were sent to hospital for various ailments, mostly muscle cramp and exhaustion.

Veteran UK marathon runner Charlotte Cutler, 35 – a political consultant who came second in the women’s 10km event – said the pace of the race lagged behind that of the London marathon, adding that yesterday’s air quality had triggered her sinus problems.

The Environmental Protection Department’s air pollution indexes were high at all general and roadside stations, with Causeway Bay and Central topping the list at 97 and 82, respectively.