Malta Marathon

2002 GoMobile Malta Marathon

17th Malta Marathon - February 24, 2002

Tomonari and Fenech land top honours - Cilia, Galea head complete Maltese dominance in the half distance

Two hundred and thirty-three brave runners lined up outside Mdina Gate on a blustery winter morning for the 17th Malta Marathon, but before they were on their way a minute of silence was observed in memory of Joe Saliba, 42, who was registered to take part, but who died suddenly last week.

The early pacesetters were Gaetano Sciacca (Italy), Ono Tomonari (Japan), David Galea (Malta), Muharren Jilmaz (Germany), Ludek Hudak (Czech Rep.) and a group of four locals - Jimmy Sacco, Euchar Camilleri, Mario Vella and Dorian Dimech.

There was little change of note after the first 10kms, except for Sciacca and Tomonari, who started to pull away from the leading bunch. They were followed 100m behind by Jilmaz, Galea and Hudak.

Past Targa Gap there was a slight modification round the Independence Avenue at Mosta where Sciacca was still in the lead closely followed by Tomonari, Hudak, Jilmaz with Galea some 200m behind leading the Maltese quintet.

At this juncture Siri Terjesen (US) established a slight lead not big enough, however, to escape the watchful shadowing of Cecilia Fenech. Carmen Hili was lying third.

Approaching the halfway mark, out of Mosta and onto the open Ta' Qali plain, past Tal-Mirakli, which this time was tackled from Valletta Road and down the old 'runway', Tomonari increased his pace to take the lead from Sciacca with Hudak, Galea and Jilmaz some 200m adrift.

The race was decided as the runners were meandering through the Ta' Qali terrain. It was here that Tomonari went for it increasing his lead with every pace over Sciacca; while Fenech overtook Tergesen. Both of them ploughed on against the strong headwinds with sheer guts and determination making the best of weather conditions when, on the other hand, the wind came from the back.

The 30km mark was reached at the outskirts of Zebbug with Tomonari piling up the pressure to open a 900m gap over Sciacca, Hudak, Galea, Camilleri, Jilmaz and Vella followed at varying distances.

The more the race progressed the more it became evident that Tomonari had it all sewn up. Downhill all the way to Marsa, before tackling the soul destroying hill to Blata l-Bajda, the Japanese built an unassailable lead and the race was his, barring accident.

On the other front, Fenech continued her good work emulating Tomonari, building a comfortable advantage leaving all her potential rivals way back.

Having reached the crest of the hill at Portes-de-Bombes, there remained for Tomonari the easiest of tasks to rush downhill to the Pietà/Msida junction past the yacht marina to the welcoming applause of the sizable crowd at the Sliema Strand, clocking 2:31.42 - confirming an emphatic triumph over his nearest rival of just under seven minutes. Tomonari later confirmed that the strong wind prevented him on improving his own record which stands at 2:26.00.

Meantime, news reaching the commentator at the Strand courtesy of the radio amateurs, revealed that dramatic changes were taking place among the other leading runners.

Hudak, who came in second (2:38.33), Camilleri (2:38.56) and Galea (2:40.11) - both pacing themselves well together with Jilmaz, all brushed past the fast fading Sciacca who had to be content with the sixth place. Third Maltese home was Vella (2:45.34). Certainly, an excellent showing by the Maltese.

And as if that was not enough, a thunderous burst of cheers greeted Fenech who crossed the finishing line in 3:05.23 to hold high Malta's colours for the women's title.

For this formidable runner, this was the second time she succeeded in lifting the highest honour having already chalked up this prestigious title in 1995. Tergesen and Hili, who also produced a notable performance, were second and third respectively.

The Half Marathon

Around 500 runners lined up for the half distance and as the results clearly show, this event was completely dominated by the Maltese.

Charles Cilia, Brian Magri, Drew Lang, Michael Gellel and the inimitable Carol Galea, were involved in the early skirmishes leaving us with no story to recount as they never looked back getting on with their tasks in steady and resolute fashion.

At the finish it was Cilia - so near and yet so far in past editions - who finally grabbed the prize he had long been struggling for in a time of 1:10.22 followed by Magri (1:12.14) who chased him all the way with Gellel just under a minute behind in third place.

Galea, offering once more a brilliant and superb performance, breezed in with her infectious smile to record, despite the windy conditions, her third best time for the distance stopping the clocks at 1:16.54.

This was another amazing showing, ninth overall, by Malta undisputed road running queen, who looking ahead at the forthcoming Commonwealth Games this summer, has now amassed an amazing 10 wins in the half marathon over the past 11 years! Can this monumental feat be ever matched?

Michelle Singleton (GB) and Charmaine Sciberras were second and third respectively.

The courageous Joseph Cardona, deservedly received a loud round of applause as he arrived home in his wheelchair (1:54.19). This was Joseph's 12th consecutive participation in the half-marathon.

Finally, a word of praise for Charles Darmanin and Konrad Ciappara. They have now set another record having taken part in all the 17 editions of the Malta Marathon.

Local ladies in golden double

Cecilia Fenech and Carol Galea kept the Maltese flag flying high yesterday after completing a memorable double in the women's marathon and half-marathon.

Fenech staved off the challenge of US runner Siri Terjesen to reach the finishing line first in 3:05.23 and claim the title for the second time in her career after winning the Malta Marathon way back in 1995.

"It's a great personal achievement to win this race twice in my career," a beaming Fenech said. "I always felt that I had a good chance of winning the marathon because I was in good shape. In such a long distance race the stamina of an athlete plays a key role and today's weather conditions required even more strength."

The St Patrick's AC runner said: "The strong winds worked in my favour as Tergesen struggled a lot, especially at Ta' Qali where the winds were blowing strongly.

"The winds in that part did not really bother me too much as I am used to it... I practise everyday at Ta' Qali so that was on my part."

As for next year's event Fenech said: "I definitely want to be back in 2003 because it would be great for me to defend my title successfully. The warmth of the Maltese people at the finish line is just as wonderful and certainly I want to be part of it all next year."

For Galea victory was a personal triumph after recovering from a serious injury suffered after last year's San Marino GSSE. Yesterday's success in the half-marathon was the Pembroke AC runner's tenth in the last 11 Malta half-marathons.

"It is rather difficult to express my emotions at the moment," Galea, more popularly known as Malta's queen of sport, said. "The past six months were very difficult for me with that injury. I still wanted to maintain my training schedule but the injury I suffered prevented me from doing so... it was really hard to bear. However, that negative patch is just history now and I want to enjoy this success".

Last year Galea was beaten to the post at the Sliema Ferries by German runner Ines Cronjager. That halted a sequence of nine successive Malta half-marathon wins.

Galea, who clocked 1:17.08 last year, added: "I am also really surprised with my performance because completing the race in 1:16.54 in such unfavourable conditions is a significant timing. But I have no intentions to stop here and rest on my laurels. I want to continue training hard and, hopefully, compete in the Commonwealth Games and the Dublin Marathon."

Cilia in dreamland after half-marathon success

Charles Cilia was still trying to come to terms with reality several minutes after the race after he led a local clean sweep of honours in the men's half-marathon. Cilia covered the 13.1-mile distance in 1:10.22 ahead of compatriots Brian Magri and Michael Gellel.

"My main target was to finish first from among the Maltese runners but to win the overall title is certainly a dream come true. I am not really satisfied with my time because I thought I could do much better but you can't have everything in life can't you!" Cilia remarked.

"Brian set a very strong pace at the start and there were times when I thought that I would never be able to close the gap. But at the halfway mark he started to slow down and that gave me the chance to take the lead. I was strong enough to capitalise on this situation.

"The final part will remain indelible in my mind. To look back and feel certain that victory is yours is simply incredible."

Another local runner who did well yesterday was Euchar Camilleri. He finished third in the full marathon behind Ono Tomonari and Ludek Hudak.

Some 10km from the finish, Camilleri, who was also first from among the locals in 2001 and fourth overall, was in fifth place but a strong surge then saw him claiming a place on the podium.

"I kept a steady pace throughout and that helped me to keep in touch with the top runners. In the second part of the race the wind was blowing from behind. I was in a position to increase my speed and recover a number of positions to finish third," he said.

"I am glad to have improved on last year's performance. Lowering my time by some two minutes in such conditions is quite an achievement for me."

Ono Tomonari, 26, was a delighted man after his impressive victory. His first comments were: "I really enjoyed my experience here in Malta and to finish as the 2002 winner is the cherry on the cake. The course is very good and has a wonderful panorama. I want to be back next year because the organisation was exceptional and I felt really at ease."

David Galea seems to have adjusted well to life as a runner after a spell in cycling. The 30-year-old yesterday finished fourth in the full marathon and this result has increased his desire to leave a mark in this sport.

"I can only be satisfied with my result having started to prepare for this event in the last four months. I certainly feel that I have more to offer and looking forward to keep my running shoes on and try to improve my standards."

Articles taken from www.timesofmalta.com - February 25, 2002