Malta Marathon

2004 BMW Malta Marathon

19th Malta Marathon - February 29, 2004

Marchane Wins Again and Promises to Be Back - New Course Record in the Half-Marathon
By Paul Grech

Right from the start of the 19th edition of the BMW Malta Marathon, all the attention was focused on Abdel Kebir Marchane. Not only was the Sicily-based Moroccan runner the holder of the title, but on the eve of the event he had stated his ambition to break the course record of 2.19.30 set by Hugh Jones back in 1993.

That claim was backed up by his actions as Marchane promptly set off at a fast pace. So much that within one hour and ten minutes he had already reached the marathon's mid-point and seemed well set to achieve his target.

In the end, however, it wasn't to be. Marchane finished in 2.22.29, almost three minutes faster than last year's winning time but as much slower than Jones' record.

Even so, he was far from disappointed with the outcome. "It was a good race," he said moments after crossing the finishing line. "I like this marathon. I wasn't in the best condition but I still managed to do it in a good time. This is the third time that I've taken part and I've had the opportunity to study the route well. Each time that I've taken part I've managed to improve my time and I'm happy that I did the same this time round."

As for the record, there's always next year. "I plan to come back and set a new record. Hopefully, next year I'll be able to bring another athlete to do the marathon with me and help with my pacing. My objective is to do it in two hours seventeen minutes."

This would mean equalling his current personal best that Marchane achieved earlier this year at the Marathon of Marakesch where he finished sixth overall. That result could even book him a place for next summer's Olympics. "In Marakesch, I was the fourth Moroccan athlete and I'm waiting to hear from the federation to see whether I've made it into the team."

If he does make it to Athens, Marchane could face the man who finished just behind him in Malta and who pushed him hard all the way. Ethiopian-born Czech athlete Mulugetta Serbessa completed the BMW Malta Marathon in an impressive 2.22.42. He too will be taking part in the national trials that take place next May and which will decide who will form part of the Czech team.

Talking of the BMW Malta Marathon, Serbessa said that he didn't have the best of run-ups to the event. "At the moment, it is very cold in Prague and we can't really train. That is why we came to Malta since we wanted somewhere with a better climate. Considering that and the fact that I'm not a professional athlete, I'm very pleased with the result."

Another Czech athete, Jiri Wallenfels was third in 2.36.12, five minutes ahead of the first placed Maltese athlete Peter Azzopardi.

Unusual Obstacle for Azzopardi

Visibly exhausted, the AS Libertas runner took some time to recover from the ordeal. When he did, however, he immediately dedicated the win to his family. "At the begging of February, my wife gave birth to a boy and this win is for them."

The new addition to the Azzopardi family meant that Peter had to overcome a somewhat unusual obstacle. "I tried hard to get as much rest as possible which isn't that easy with a new born baby and, in any case, my wife was always my top priority."

During the marathon, his main challenge came from Brian Magri who had actually gone into the lead early on and initially looked set to win. Azzopardi, however, kept up with him and managed to finish the race stronger although the final gap was of just 49 seconds as Magri came in with a time of 2.41.57.

Carmen Hili was the first woman to finish the marathon in 3.08.29. Although this was two minutes slower than last year's finishing time which got her second place, the St. Patrick's athlete wasn't about to complain "it's nice to win such an important event".

Perhaps her biggest challenge was that of pacing herself correctly, seeing that from the outset it was clear that there wasn't going to be too much competition for the first place in the female section. "Yes," she agreed. "I tried to keep in mind what my coach told me during preparation and kept pacing myself accordingly." Two German athletes - Bettina Schreiber and Sylvia Goerich – finished second and third respectively.

Charles Cilia All the Way

The half marathon saw Charles Cilia emerge as winner for the third time in succession. His time of 1.08.42 was a personal best, something he claimed was down to a change in strategy.

"In the past, I always tended to start the race to fast leaving too little energy for the finish. This year, I didn't want to repeat that tactic. I forced myself to keep a slow pace early on and then increase the nearer I got to the finish."

Jonathan Balzan came in second, just 33 seconds behind the winner. "Balzan had a great race today," Cilia confirmed. "It is partly thanks to him that I managed the time that I did. He pushed me hard and in the end I think that we both ended helping each other get very good times."

As in the previous edition, third place went to Mario Pisani (1.12.03) who had initially inserted himself between Cilia and Balzan. Nevertheless, it was a good result for the Athleta Pembroke athlete who improved on last year's time by almost two minutes.

Renz Sets New Record

The absence of Carol Galea reduced somewhat the interest in the female category of the BMW Malta Half-Marathon, so much that the fact that German athlete Sylvia Renz had finished the course in a record time of 1.13.50 went by practically unobserved.

Renz was clearly in a class of her own and seemed more intent on challenging the men rather than simply winning the female section. Indeed she was fourth overall.

The first Maltese female athlete was Lisa Bezzina in a time of 1.25.51. More familiar with middle distance events, Bezzina decided to give longer events a shot after last year's GSSE.

"I was disappointed with last year's results at the GSSE and afterwards decided to see whether I was more suited for longer events. I didn't expect to be the first Maltese today, but it is an excellent result for me. The race was though but when I saw that I was first I forced myself to forget the exhaustion and keep going to win."

In reality, although those who set the best times normally get the plaudits, each and every athlete who managed to finish the marathons is a winner. Indeed there were a number of emotional moments at the finishing line as athletes broke down after overcoming their personal challenges. They all richly deserved the vociferous support and encouragement by those present at the finish line.

Article taken from The Times of Malta - March 1, 2004