Malta Marathon

2003 BMW Malta Marathon

18th Malta Marathon - February 23, 2003

A double for Moroccan athlete Marchane - Hat-trick for Maltese champion Cecilia Fenech
By Lewis Portelli

Palermo-based Moroccan runner Abdelkebir Marchane, winner of the race in 2001, chalked up his double in the BMW Malta Marathon when he was the first past the finishing line, improving his previous time by no less than six minutes 42 seconds.

His was a most emphatic win as the second man home, John Buhagiar, winner of this same event three years ago, ended his ordeal 11 minutes 44 seconds behind Marchane.

The evergreen Cecilia Fenech hoisted the Maltese colours on the highest mast as she was the first woman in, repeating her magnificent performance last year and notching up her hat-trick of victories, having also won the race in 1995 - a truly superb record which will be very hard to beat.

Just over 200 runners braved a cold, blustery winter morning as they set off from Mdina Gate in the direction of Rabat on to Buskett through Dingli, completing the loop before making their way down to Ghajn Qajjied.

Marchane made his intentions clear from the very beginning as he darted forward ahead of Herbert Koeberl (Austria), followed by Brian Magri, Buhagiar, Peter Azzopardi, Mario Vella, Louis Psaila, Manuel Spiteri and Martin Agius with Udo Moeller (Germany) sandwiched in between in seventh place.

At this stage, the women were being led by Beatrice Defour (France), closely followed by Fenech.

Running downhill past the National Stadium towards Ta' L-Isperanza valley, Marchane continued to stamp his authority on proceedings, increasing the gap on the chasing pack, led by Magri, who had in the meantime overtaken Koeberl.

The more the race progressed, the more Marchane increased his pace and, as the runners passed through Mosta on to the Ta' Qali plain, the Moroccan had the race already sewn up, leaving Magri some 250 metres behind.

Meanwhile, Fenech continued her good work. Having surpassed Defour at the six-kilometre mark, the Maltese champion moved ahead and, emulating the leader in the men's section, she never looked back.

Having successfully tackled the notorious windy, winding Ta' Qali open country, and past the halfway mark, Marchane further extended his comfortable lead as he embarked on the easier half of the journey at the top of the Rabat/Zebbug junction.

Vella moved up three rungs, brushing aside Koeberl, Buhagiar and Azzopardi, followed by Psaila, Pace, Agius and Spiteri.

Downhill all the way to Marsa, there was no stopping Marchane now. His blistering pace left the rest of the field way back with absolutely no danger of anyone near enough to worry him.

However, the leadership of the rest of the field changed hands as Buhagiar, pacing himself well, overtook Magri near the Marsa Sports Club.

A tough test for all participants is the hill leading from Marsa to Blata l-Bajda. It comes at a crucial stage when the runners would be tiring out after some 35 kilometres.

To compensate for this, however, any athlete reaching that mark would have his morale sky-high as he would then realise that not only the finish was not far ahead, but also that all that remained now was perhaps the easiest of all the route.

Runaway leader Marchane maintained his rhythm and as he dashed through Msida and the yacht marina, the sizeable crowd at the Sliema Strand burst into a resounding applause to greet the winner home in a time of 2:25.11.

Buhagiar ploughed on to be the first Maltese in a time of 2:36.55. Magri, who was lying second for the best part of the race finished third, one minute 48 seconds behind, stopping the clocks at 2:38.03.

Austrian Koeberl managed a fourth berth (2:41.24) ahead of Vella (2:43.43) and Azzopardi (2:47.29).

Fenech 10th overall

If Marchane's win was absolute, Fenech's overall second triumph in succession was no less authoritative. Like the Moroccan, she left all her rivals trailing kilometres behind for a most vigorous win which rightly earned her the biggest cheers of the day. Cecilia's overflowing joy and satisfaction in placing 10th overall was significant as her time of 3:00.26 was five minutes better than last year.

Moreover, out of the Maltese women's four outright triumphs in the full marathon, Fenech has managed to etch three of them in the golden album of the Malta Marathon.

Carmen Hili, runner-up to Fenech last year, again put up an admirable performance to clinch second place, recording a vast improvement of six minutes 34 seconds on last year's performance (3:06.44).

Defour, the early leader, had to be content with third prize (3:21.36).

Articles taken from www.timesofmalta.com - February 24, 2003