Malta Marathon

2001 Flora Malta Marathon

16th Malta Marathon - February 25, 2001

Moroccan Abdel Kabir Lives Up To His Name - Camilleri heads Maltese group of six in top ten

The lightly built Moroccan Marchane Abdel Kebir sailed thought the finish line of the 16th Malta Marathon pulverizing all opposition in a world paced race, launching his decisive attack on the runaway Christian Fullgraf (Denmark) at the right opportunity.

Due to road works at Ta Qali, the first part of the route had to be altered. The start was moved to Dingli and the serene surroundings were temporarily shattered as nearly 900 runners from 18 nations (294 for the full marathon and 500 for the half distance) invaded this normally peaceful village.

Soon after the start Fullgraf set a punishing pace and by the 4th mile mark he had already established a 500 metre lead. He was followed by Martin Lohbreyer (Germany) and Peter Azzopardi. Pannhorst, Jurrens, Skeriena (all Germans), Boyer (France) and Euchar Camilleri formed another group, some 20 metres further back.

At the 2nd feeding station at the Ta Qali roundabout in the middle of the old town, Vnezja runway, Fullgraf consolidated his lead on Lohbreyer as Abdel Kebir increased hi space to moved up behind the German. Azzopardi and Hamon (France) ran in tandem ahead of the 2 other Maltese - Mario Vella and Camilleri.

Nine miles on, at Targa Gap, more tactics were taking place up front as Abdel Kebir ran past Alohbreyer, the latter now being joined by Azzopardi.

Meanwhile, German Birgitte Lennartz was leading the woman's field about 3 miles behind the leader with the experienced Cecilia Fenech some 300 metres back.

The more the race progressed, the more Abdel Kebir's intentions became clear. Having definitely disposed of Lohbreyer, the Moroccan was slowly, but surely, gnawing at Fullgraf's lead. The decisive moment came just past the 15 mile mark when the runners, having tackled part of the Ta Qali plane, returned to the same spot on the old runway.

It was here that Abdel Kebir decided to go for it. He went into the lead and never looked back till the very end. It was obvious that Fullgraf had gone too fast too soon. At this point, no fewer than 7 Maltese were among the top 10 - Azzopardi, Camilleri, Vella, Louis Psaila, Dorian Dimech, Alfred Debono and Manual Spiteri.

Both Lennartz and Fenech kept up their good work despite the rather strong breeze at Ta Qali.

The front runners had by this time reached the roundabout linking Notabile Road through Triq Mdina on the way to the outskirts of Zebbug. From here the route was the same as in previous additions and, accept for the Marsa/Blata l-Bajda hill, it was all plain running right to the finish.

Abdel Kebir, timing the race beautifully, increased the lead with every pace and, as he explained afterwards, as soon as he reached Pieta and saw the blue Mediterranean, his morale was sky high. He knew that there was not far to go now and he still had plenty of reserves.

There was no stopping the Moroccan now. Sniffing the welcoming sea breezes as he meandered past the Msida and Ta Xbiex Yacht marina, he coasted home as the sizeable crowd present at Sliema Ferries burst into a deafening applause.

Abdel Kebir, still looking rather fresh after his 26.2 mile ordeal, stopped the clocks at 2:31:53 - an emphatic 4-minute gap over 2nd placed Lohbreyer (2:35:58). Fullgraf had to be content with the 3rd plaicing (2:37:07).

The 1st Maltese home was Camilleri, 4th overall (2:40:08), in front of Azzopardi (2:43:46) and Vella (2:47:19). They were followed by Psaila, Debono and Dimech.

Lennartz flew the German flag high in the women's marathon (3:04:47) when she crossed the line just ahead of Fenech. The Maltese runner was hot on the heels of her German rival right throughout the whole race finishing a mere 23 seconds behind (3:05:10). Moreover, Fenech must be very satisfied with her 24th placing overall. Astrid Benhor was 3rd (3:12:43).

Maltese Astrid Fleri Soler and Jane Desira were 2nd and 3rd respectively for their country.

Galea Fails by a Whisker to Make it Ten in a Row

In the half-marathon all eyes were on Malta's long distance heroine Carol Galea. Having been crowned champion during a staggering nine editions in a row – a feat which will be unsurpassed, if at all, for many years to come – the main interest was whether she could chalk up a magical 10th.

The woman's section was won by German, Ines Cronjager (1:16:26) 41 seconds ahead of Galea (1:17:07) who, however, had the great satisfaction of being the 1st Maltese to cross the finishing line as well as given another 1st class performance, bettering her time of last year in the process by 2 seconds.

The 3rd place went to another German, Kirsten Bruenig (1:18:07). Angela Sammut (1:29:09) and Silvana Abela were 2nd and 3rd in the Maltese colours.

Yet another German, Matthias Koerner, topped the list in the men's division (1:05:56) while Frenchman Nicolas Collas grabbed the runner-up slot (1:08:18) ahead of the early leader, Italian Rocco Testagrossa.

John Buhagiar, last year's full-marathon winner, decided to tackle the half-distance this time. Although he admitted after the race that he would have much preferred the longer distance, nevertheless he was satisfied to be the 1st Maltese home (1:10:56) and 5th overall. Charles Cilia (1:11:40) and Drew Lang (1:13:25) were the other Maltese to take the 2nd and 3rd berths.

Our wheelchair friends, Michael Cutajar and Joe Cardona, were again a source of inspiration to one and all for their courage and determination. They fully deserved the loud cheers which greeted them both at the finish.

This year's event has once again proved to be a great success thanks to the organizers and their helpers including that of the radio amateurs, especially Wenzu Dalli who kept in constant touch with his colleagues on the route so as to enable the commentator at the finish to keep the crowd abreast of events.

Minister of Tourism, Michael Refalo, presented the trophies to the winners.

No wins but Locals Still Satisfied

Despite failing to repeat last year's exploits, which saw John Buhagiar winning the full marathon and Carol Galea and Kevin Zammit finishing first in the half-marathon, there was still an air of satisfaction among the Maltese runners at the 16th Malta Marathon on Sunday. Galea failed in her bold bid to win the half-marathon for a remarkable 10th consecutive year. With the GSSE coming up, she contended, it was not easy for her to be in top shape for the half-marathon as well. "It's very difficult for any athlete to perform equally well in all the disciplines in the same season. I've set my main target on next May's GSSE in San Marino and therefore most of the practicing is being held on track. It would have been great to win for yet another edition, but I'm still pleased with my performance."The Zurrieq Wolves runner said her choice for going for a fast pace at the start worked against her because she could not keep up that rhythm all the way home. "Before the race I knew that my main rivals were going to be the 2 German runners and therefore I decided to build an early advantage and then control proceedings."However, it was a bit too much for me and at the end of the day she proved to be the strongest athlete." Buhagiar placed 3rd in the half-marathon. He said he found this event tougher than the full-marathon. "Today it was a real struggle for me. Unfortunately, during the race I was troubled by my hamstring and could not express myself to my full potential. Funnily enough, for me running the half marathon turned out to be more stressful than a full marathon. But this season, since I'm competing on shorter distances in the GSSE, my training programme focused on speed rather than endurance."I know I could have run a faster time but I'm not complaining and, most importantly, I think I'm on the right track for San Marino."

In the marathon, Malta still registered an excellent result as no fewer than 6 locals placed among the top 10. Euchar Camilleri, was the 1st home runner at the gantry. He was 4th. Camilleri said his result of the fruit and hard work and commitment. He said: "I am really delighted that all the work done was rewarded with this result. I trained really hard during the past months and I'm glad to have achieved a 4th placing. "It is my best ever result in such event and will certainly help me to forget all about the bad memories I have experienced in the past." Six years ago, Camilleri was victim of a bad injury when 20 metres from the finishing line of a marathon he fell awkwardly and broke his leg. After that incident, Camilleri was ruled out of any activity for 18 months.

Peter Azzopardi was 2nd among the Maltese after finishing 5th overall. The Reebok Falcons runner, who prepared for the race by forking out the money himself for a training camp in Cyprus, said that he could not get a better result since he was not fully fit. "I made a good start and managed to keep pace with the front runners. However, I suddenly felt pain in my groin which hindered me from maintaining the pace. Now I hope to be fit again soon to take part in the London marathon."

Cecilia Fenech produced a terrific performance which saw her placing 2nd in the women's marathon. Fenech, who won the Palermo marathon in 1998, said she preferred the new route because it made things simpler for athletes. She said that the EVAA Championships, which will be held in Malta in April, are the next big event on her agenda. "I will now focus my attention on the Veteran's Championships. This was a good result for me but in the coming weeks I will concentrate solely on this event where I hope I can get an excellent result," she said.

Abdel Kebir, the marathon winner from Morocco, who is based in Sicily, said he was really pleased to win in Malta and said he found the course to be of a very good standard. "I think that this race is a very organized one. Obviously, it is very difficult to clock a fast time with all those uphills, but I will certainly be back next year because I really enjoyed it," he said. Kebir, who this season placed 4th in the Casablanca marathon and 3rd in the Napoli marathon, is mid-way through his preparatory phase for a 25-kms race in Berlin and the Stockholm marathon next month.

Articles was taken from "The Times" - February 26, 2001