Malta Marathon

2005 BMW Malta Marathon

20th Malta Marathon - February 27, 2005

Marchane sets new mark, plans to improve it - Half marathon produces tight finish
Paul Grech

Kebir by name, kebir by achievement. Translated from Arabic, the middle name of Moroccan athlete Abdel Kebir Marchane means great and at the 20th BMW Malta Marathon, he proved that he fully deserves such a title.

Not only did he obtain his fourth win in as many attempts but also managed to set a new record for the marathon.

This achievement gains in prestige when it is considered that the previous best had been set 12 years ago by Hugh Jones who had finished in a time of 2.19.30. Marchane completed the route in 2.19.08, an improvement of 22 seconds.

Understandably, the Sicily-based Moroccan athlete was pleased with the result, although the race didn't pan out as he had originally planned.

"I had hoped that the Russian athlete would stay with me and I could use him to maintain my pace but by the 12th kilometre I realised that he couldn't keep up so I decided to pull away on my own.

"I'm very happy with the record because it was always my intention but I still think I can improve on it. Having a good pacemaker who keeps pushing me on till the 30th kilometre, I think that I can do better. A time of two hours and 17 minutes is certainly possible, given the right conditions."

Those who witnessed Marchane breezing through the last few metres of the marathon at Sliema yesterday would vouch for that. He was barely out of breath and looked as if he were about to start the marathon rather than having just finished one.

That Marchane is a top-class athlete is confirmed by his inclusion in the national team of Morocco, a nation renowned for its middle and long distance athletes. "Last year I was a reserve for the Olympic squad," he said, "but this year I will definitely be competing either in the World Championships or the Mediterranean Games."

Yet, there is no danger that in the future he'll overlook the Malta Marathon for more prestigious events.

"I like this race and I'm familiar with it, even though they've changed the route this year. I'd like to dedicate this win to my good friend Paola and my coach Aldo. Next year they will be here with me," he said, thereby confirming his presence at the starting line in 2006.

Whether Oleg Knyagn, the Russian athlete who finished second in a time of 2.28.02, will do likewise is more doubtful. He looked completely exhausted as he crossed the finishing line and although he could not answer any questions due to his lack of knowledge of English, fatigue would have stopped him from doing so in any case.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed Jimmy Sacco to receive the plaudits he fully deserved. With a time of 2.37.37, the Birkirkara St Joseph athlete became not only the first Maltese to cross the finishing line but also placed third overall.

"This is my eighth marathon and finally I've learnt from my past mistakes," an elated Sacco said.

"I've realised that you can't push too hard during the first half of the marathon and that is what I did today. That tactic paid off."

Sacco had the added benefit of having a second Moroccan pushing him all the way. "It is always better than running alone. You keep up your momentum and don't slack off."

The past six months have been full of ups and downs for Sacco. Indeed, a few days after finishing third in the veterans' category of the Amsterdam Marathon in October, he broke his collarbone.

"I don't know how I managed to get ready for this marathon so most of all I have to thank God for this."

His faith was touching and an example to others, although it was refreshing to notice that rather than the blaspheming that too often blights local sporting events, on this occasion there were plenty who openly expressed their gratitude to God for having made it through another gruelling 42 kilometres.

The only remaining verdict for the marathon was to determine the first female athlete and it was Zurrieq Wolves' Cecilia Fenech who claimed the title with a finishing time of 3.03.39.

Having waited for a couple of minutes in order to regain her breath, Fenech expressed her delight at the result.

"The last time I won the marathon was in 1995, exactly ten years ago. It is a very special day for me and a special result. I dearly wanted to win.

"The wind was a problem and so too was the traffic. I also found it difficult as I was on my own all the way and I didn't have anybody to pace me. Still I'm very happy," Fenech, who placed 13th overall, said.

St Patrick's athlete Carmen Hili finished second in a time of 3.15.50 with Briton Yvonne Parker (3.25.21) third.

Sprinting dash rewards Cilia, Galea first woman

There are very few things more astounding than two athletes sprinting in the final few metres of a 21-km half marathon, but that is what Charles Cilia and Jonathan Balzan had to do in order to decide who would win this year's edition of the BMW Malta Half Marathon.

In the end, it was Cilia who headed home first making it his fourth success on the run.

"I think this was my most difficult win," he admitted. "I haven't been preparing for this half marathon but rather for the Rome Marathon. Yet, this is the prime event for local long distance runners and you can't really miss it."

As for the race itself, Cilia admitted that there was a point where he feared he wouldn't make it. "At the final mile, he opened a gap of around 15 metres and I started giving up. But then I pushed hard in the final 150 metres and won, which probably is more than I deserved today. Jonathan ran a really good race."

Balzan, however, was clearly deflated by the outcome. Before the race he had confided that psychologically he wasn't prepared well enough and it is a comment that he repeated after the half marathon.

"Mentally I wasn't there in the past few weeks and the weather made it difficult for me to train. The time is a couple of minutes slower than last year's, although you have to consider the varying conditions."

Indeed, just seven seconds separated the two athletes with Cilia (Birkirkara St Joseph) crossing the line 1.10.12, just ahead of the St Patrick's man (1.10.19) who went on to admit that "although I am pleased it was a heartbreaking race and the third time that I've finished second."

Still he can take courage not only from Cilia's words but also from the fact that he is now firmly established among the elite of Malta's long distance runners.

Athleta Pembroke's Mark Herrera, one of the most promising Maltese talents, finished third in a time of 1.13.34.

"Third was my overall objective but I would have liked to do it a little bit faster. However, the wind and the traffic made that a little bit harder. Still, I think that I prefer this route to the previous one," he said.

Carol Galea, an institution of Maltese athletics, was the first woman over the finishing line with a time of 1.18.37.

This was her 12th overall success in the 14 times she has taken part. "I'm pleased with the time. I slipped when I was running a couple of weeks back and I had to slow down my preparation," Galea commented.

"Still, at my age I appreciate every race that I finish and win. Perhaps when you're younger you tend to take everything for granted. Maybe it is a sign of maturity but I've learnt to take everything in my stride."

Wise words indeed although it doesn't mean that age has blunted her ambition. "Now I'm looking forward to the Small Nations Games. I intend to take part in the 5,000m and the 10,000 and hopefully I'll come back with two gold medals."

Fellow Athleta Pembroke athlete Lisa Marie Bezzina came second with a time of 1.24.31 with Angela Sammut of St Patrick's third (1.25.26).