Malta Marathon

2006 BMW Malta Marathon

21st Malta Marathon - March 5, 2006

No new records but plenty of excitement as marathons continue to improve... Kenyan triumph - Balzan sets third best time ever by a Maltese
Paul Grech

It was a day of many positives for the BMW Malta Marathon and Half Marathon. The ever growing number of athletes - there were in total 784 - confirm these races as the biggest sporting events on the islands in terms of participation while the day's good weather make them the perfect advert for Malta as a sports tourism destination.

For all the athletes taking part, the biggest plus of this year's experience was the improved traffic control along the route. As far as the vast majority was concerned, such a factor made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Despite the windy conditions, 11 athletes ran the full marathon in less than three hours, confirming that this is one of the fastest routes around. Kenyan Joshua Kipchumba took the day's honours, finishing the marathon in 2 hours 21 minutes.

The Sicily-based Moroccan athlete, Abdel Kebir Marchane's had arrived in Malta looking to not only gain his fifth victory but also to improve on last year's record of 2.19.07 but as it turned out this was not to be. "It was heartbreaking. I love running here and wanted to break my own record. Given the weather and how I was going, I feel that I could have set a new marathon best." Instead, Marchane waited with the rest of the crowd for the first athlete in and cheered sportingly as Kipchumba crossed the finish line in 2 hours 21 minutes flat. Marchane told race director Joe Micallef that he will be returning next year to do what he did not do this year.

It was a good performance by the Kenyan and it is indeed a pity that we were deprived from seeing him run head to head with Marchane till the end.

The exertion of running 42km caught up with him at the end and he could barely manage to talk. He did, however, declare that the route can be covered in a faster time.

"My personal best is 2.16 so I think that I can do better than today's time. Running on my own didn't affect me but the wind made it very difficult," the winner remarked.

It took some time for the second athlete to come in but when he did, the waiting crowd reserved quite a cheer for it was a Maltese, Jonathan Balzan of St Patrick's AC, who grabbed the runner-up spot.

Up to this year's edition, Balzan had been a half marathon specialist but injuries over the past couple of months had hindered his preparation so much that he decided to run in the full marathon. But if this is how he runs when he is injured, we'll be in for some exceptional results when he is fully fit.

"I honestly didn't expect this. I've had a crash course in how to run a full marathon," Balzan explained.

"Other than that, the injuries that I've had these past couple of months had me going from one specialist to another so I would have been happy with a time of 2 hours 40 minutes. To do so well, and be the first Maltese is amazing."

And his time of 2.30.18 was indeed an amazing result, the fourth best timing ever achieved by a Maltese athlete in the Malta Marathon, bettered only by John Buhagiar's 2.28.10 of 1999, Joseph Pace's 2.28.27 of 1995 and Robert Attard’s 2.29.09 in 1998.

In light of this, it was only natural to ask Balzan whether he intends to start focusing on such races. "It is too early to decide but it is certainly food for thought."

Particularly if he keeps receiving invitations to compete in marathons abroad, as he did yesterday at the finishing line when the race director of the Palermo Supermarathon offered him the possibility of running as one of the race's invited athletes later this year.

Just as last year, Jimmy Sacco was third although with an improved time of 2.36.26.

"It is a personal best for me," the Mellieha AC athlete confirmed.

For the Mellieha club it was an exceptional day, as they had five athletes in the top 15. One of them was club president Manfred Borda who expressed his delight with the result.

Carmen Hili was the first woman in, crossing the finishing line in 3.12.05. Having finished second last year, the improved result was a satisfaction of sorts for the St Patrick's athlete.

"It's good to win but I'm not that happy with my time. The wind made it very tough, slowing my progress all the way," Hili said.

Briton Short walks tall after Half Marathon win

Destiny had apparently deemed that none of last year's winners would repeat the feat this time round. So too it proved to be in the Half Marathon where AS Libertas' Charles Cilia fell short of making it five wins in a row.

It was certainly a disappointment for the in-form Cilia (1.10.57) who admitted that he had been in discomfort early on.

"From the start, I didn't feel good. I had a lot of minor niggles and couldn't push myself as much as I wanted. It was one of those days.

"Still, I'm satisfied. If, when I had started running, someone had told me that I'd win four times and finish second once, I wouldn't have believed them. It is an experience from which I'll learn."

Cilia's title was taken by British athlete Timothy Short (1.10.40), a seemingly inappropriate surname for the 6 foot 5 athlete who confessed that this was his first proper half marathon.

"I normally prefer fell running and running on mountainous terrain so this was something of a novelty for me. The route is magnificent and I enjoyed myself a lot. I'll certainly be back next year," Short said.

Asked about the wind, he replied: "The sun was shining and the weather is much better than back home, where I normally train in snow!"

Third in was the Libyan Haithem Ksheim (1.12.10), an athlete who has recently registered for Maltese club St Patrick's.

Bezzina first woman

Lisa Marie Bezzina won the women's half for the first time in a personal best of 1.24.19, although it was a tough race as she explained.

"I had to work very hard. For most of the race I was in front and totally in control of proceedings." Then, two kilometres from the end she was overtaken. "It was a surprise and psychologically it hit me hard as I wasn't expecting someone to breeze past me," Bezzina said.

"After the initial shock, I started concentrating once more on speeding up and recovered first place in the final 200 metres.

"I've been eating all the right things, which is why I was able to react as I did. Naturally, that wouldn't have been possible without the support not only from my family and coach John Walsh but also from those firms who believe in me like Quest Vitamin Supplements, Urban Jungle, Kristal, Maxim and Cardinal Health."

Bezzina thus takes over the title that has so often been in the hands of team-mate Carol Walsh.

"I missed Carol today," she confided. "She usually starts as favourite but this time I was under pressure to win. It's not a comfortable position, I can assure you!"