Birth of a New Champion in Wuhan International nalMarathon Marathon
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
Top 3 female winners, full marathon
Photographs by Zheng Yuanchang