Edith Masai to run Singapore Marathon, by Pat Butcher


Pat Butcher is one of the best travelled correspondents in our sport, as well as one of the most insightful and articulate. (Yes, Mr. Butcher will owe me a beverage at our next meeting). As he travels to events, he provides us with some colorful columns on the stories that we would not expect from the marathon circuit. This is one of those stories...

Singapore, Friday, november 30, 0900gmt

Running royalty comes to the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon this Sunday (December 2), in the person of Edith Masai of Kenya. A former 800 metres runner, Masai was a late developer in distance racing, winning her three world cross country titles and a world champs bronze on the track in the early years of the new century, when well into her thirties. She only made her marathon debut two years ago, with victory in Hamburg in 2.27.06, and finished a highly creditable eighth in the recent World Championships in Osaka in August. At age 40!

After torrid conditions in Japan, Masai is a little concerned by the heat and humidity which characterise the Singapore event – local temperatures have never dropped below 21C, ever! Accordingly, the start time is even earlier this year, 5.30am. By the time the sun comes up, the runners should be well on their way to the finish line. “We arrived in Japan ten days before the race, so we got some time to get accustomed to the heat and humidity,” said Masai on Friday, “but it was still difficult. I only arrived here three days ago, so I don’t know if it will be worse”.

Masai has a formidable target to aim for, the course record of 2.31.55, set last year by her colleague Salina Kosgei, who opted for the Tokyo Women’s Marathon two weeks ago, when she finished second to Olympic champ, Mizuki Noguchi.

In the absence of Kosgei, who took three minutes off the previous women’s record in Singapore, Masai’s major rivals will include the veteran Russian (formerly of Belarus) Madina Biktagirova, whose personal best of 2.24.46 is ten years old, but who still shattered the Istanbul record by six minutes with a 2.28.21 last year, and this year won the celebrated Comrades (ultra) Marathon in South Africa. Other luminaries include Banuela Kateswiga of Tanzania and Yang Feng Xia of China, both sub-2.27 performers.

The men’s race promises to be even more exciting. Conventional wisdom has it that if an Ethiopian and a Kenyan get involved in a sprint finish, it’s the Ethiopian who wins. Not in Singapore where, for the third year in succession, Ashebier Demissu will try to hold off the fast finishing Amos Matui, who has come from behind in the final stages two years running, to beat the Ethiopian.

Matui, 33, who comes from Kitale, the same area as Masai, said on Friday, “Two years ago, I was well behind the leading group, but last year I made sure I was with them. I’ll try to the do the same this year”. Since finishing third here last year, Abel Kirui has run 2.06.51, for second place behind Haile Gebrselassie’s world record of 2.04.26 in Berlin. But that was only two months ago, and Matui is hoping that the effort is still in his legs. But Matui’s training partner, David Cheruyiot, and another Kenyan, Wilson Onsare (2.06.47 in 2003) could surprise everyone.
Matui’s second victory last year netted him a course record of 2.15.01, testament to the difficulty of the race. But, despite the conditions, the excellent organisation by the local Sports Council has persuaded over 12,000 people to run the marathon, with the ‘half’ and 10k fields taking entries up to 40,000, making it easily the biggest running event in south east Asia. As Loh Lin Kok, president of the Singapore AAA, and member of the IAAF juridical commission says, “The fact we have the top six men from last year back again is a strong endorsement of our organisational qualities”.

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