Birth of a New Cham­pion in Wuhan International nalMarathon Marathon

Special Focus - - Contents - Raphael Ziro

Three words sum up the Wuhan International Marathon: rain, wind, and run­ning. As they say in Wuhan, “It’s dif­fer­ent ev­ery­day.” This was cer­tainly the case on the chilly Sunday morn­ing of April 9, 2017, the day of this year’s Dongfeng Wuhan International Marathon. The chilly and rainy weather promised to make this year’s edi­tion of the ac­claimed marathon quite dif­fi­cult.

If you think com­plet­ing this marathon is easy or sim­ple, just ask the elite international marathon­ers from all over the world who par­tic­i­pated with the sole aim of win­ning the spoils and adding their name to the cov­eted list of cham­pi­ons. They will tell you, it was hard, very hard. It was so dif­fi­cult that nearly none of the marathon­ers, some of whom had par­tic­i­pated in dozens of marathons all over the world, at­tained their per­sonal best times. Al­though ac­tu­ally, one beat his per­sonal best— you guessed it right, the cham­pion. As al­ways, Spe­cial Fo­cus got a spe­cial seat to bring our read­ers all the juicy de­tails about this year’s marathon.

The full marathon, 42km of pain, pant­ing, and en­durance is only for

the best of the best. Oth­ers par­tic­i­pate in the half marathon (21km) and health run (12km). Slightly over two hours later, thou­sands of com­peti­tors had com­pleted their goal and a new win­ner was crowned. 24-yearold Zakaria Boudad from Morocco emerged as the win­ner with a time of 2:13:51, his per­sonal best. What makes his win amaz­ing is one sim­ple fact: the Wuhan International Marathon was only his sec­ond race.

Yes, it was only his sec­ond ever marathon, and the first out­side of his coun­try. The world will surely see more of this young man, but Wuhan will for­ever re­main as his first win. What’s more, he only be­gan run­ning full marathon in Jan­uary of 2017. In a field where ath­letes typ­i­cally train and par­tic­i­pate in dozens of races be­fore tast­ing vic­tory, this young man started in Jan­uary, and just four months later ran his sec­ond race and eclipsed sea­soned legs, hard­ened by years of prac­tic­ing and com­pet­ing—from Africa, to Europe, to North Amer­ica.

He not only won against these run­ners with far more ex­pe­ri­ence, but beat them hands down in the most tor­tur­ous of ter­rains in Cen­tral China’s Wuhan—sim­ply leg­endary. Some­times you have to see to be­lieve—I saw, and now I be­lieve. I was able to speak with him. He said beat­ing the leg­endary Kenyan and Ethiopian ath­letes made it spe­cial for him. His strat­egy was akin to that pro­posed by Deng Xiaop­ing’s “24 char­ac­ter” strat­egy to make China great—“ob­serve calmly, se­cure our po­si­tion … hide our ca­pa­bil­i­ties and bide our time … never claim lead­er­ship.”

Boudad main­tained a low pro­file through­out the first 35km, he hid his ca­pa­bil­i­ties from the other run­ners, never took lead­er­ship, while just main­tain­ing a po­si­tion close to the lead­ers. At the 35km mark, he took off like a bul­let. The Ethiopi­ans and Kenyan in tow were caught off guard. From that point on­wards, he “dic­tated the race,” as he put it in his own words. The next time they saw him was on the podium, claim­ing his medal.

Sec­ond in row was Sufa Chala from Ethiopia, at 2:13:47. His per­sonal best stands at 2:11, a mas­sive two min­utes off what he at­tained in Wuhan on Sunday. So what hap­pened? Spe­cial Fo­cus sought to know dur­ing the in­ter­view. The win­ner of the South Korea marathon said that the weather was what held him back. The wind and rain slowed him down.

Hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in over eight marathons in the world, he rates the Man­dela marathon in South Africa the hard­est ever, while the South Korea as his best. Were it not for

the pun­ish­ing Wuhan weather, he would have emerged win­ner. His sec­ond place fin­ish wasn’t bad, but he feels he could have done bet­ter. He as­sured us that he would be back with a vengeance for next year’s event. We can only look for­ward.

Po­si­tion 3 went to fel­low Ethiopian Barka Bekele. With a per­sonal best of 2:09, Bekele was the fa­vorite to win. He posted a time of 2:14:23 in Wuhan, five min­utes slower than his per­sonal best. Bekele has par­tic­i­pated in 12 marathons, mak­ing him a leg­end among this year’s par­tic­i­pants. To top it up, he is no stranger to Chi­nese marathons, hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in the Beijing and Nan­ning marathons, among oth­ers. He is surely in love with the coun­try and he prom­ises to be back to China for more marathons. For him, Chi­nese marathons are the hard­est, but this does not dis­suade him from com­pet­ing.

On the fe­male side, Egi­gayehu As­nakech Mengistu from Ethiopia was the cham­pion. She won by post­ing a time of 2:34:50, nearly ten min­utes be­hind her per­sonal best of 2:25:11. The Mi­lano marathon cham­pion cred­its her slow speed to the weather, as well. The weather wasn’t enough to stop her from adding the Wuhan International Marathon to her list of con­quests.

Mengistu’s first marathon was in Frankfurt, Ger­many, and has since gone to Asia, Africa, and North and South Amer­ica. She is no novice. Her story is one of re­silience and hard work. Her ded­i­ca­tion to not let a loss put her down but give her strength to come back stronger is an out­stand­ing qual­ity of hers. She said that China tops the list of the hard­est marathons due to the weather and ter­rain. She pulled ahead of the pack at the 30km mark and held the lead the rest of the time, win­ning by nearly five min­utes. A lesser-known Moroc­can run­ner fin­ished at 2:30.

Kenyan Mercy Che­mu­tai was third. Her time was 2:36:14 while her per­sonal best is 2:32. The Wuhan marathon is her eighth. Her other podium fin­ishes in­clude the Nairobi marathon ( po­si­tion 3) and the Cologne Marathon (po­si­tion 2). At 26 years old, she surely has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ences in run­ning international marathons. She rates the Wuhan marathon as her hard­est yet, partly due to the weather, while the Cologne course as be­ing the best. Hard or not, she is look­ing for­ward to com­ing back and hope­fully con­quer­ing the Wuhan course.

With this star- stud­ded cast, the up­com­ing edi­tions of Wuhan International Marathons will surely con­tinue to grow in leaps and bounds.

Top 3 male win­ners, full marathon Photograph by Ke Hao

Photograph by Ke Hao

Top 3 fe­male win­ners, full marathon

Photographs by Li Wei

Photographs by Zheng Yuan­chang

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