Malta Marathon

2008 BMW Malta Marathon

23rd Malta Marathon - February 24, 2008

Balzan Runs Into The Record Books

Whatever the future of the Malta Marathon holds, Jonathan Balzan has ensured that his name will forever be remembered as one of the greats of this event and Maltese long distance running.

Yesterday, he ran home in a time of 2 hours 26 minutes and 29 seconds, the fastest time ever registered by a Maltese in a marathon. So good was his result - the first Maltese was expected to come in some four minutes later - that it took a lot of those present by surprise.

Temporary astonishment, however, soon turned into elation upon the realisation of Balzan's achievement.

The athlete himself broke down crying after crossing the finishing line, overcome by the emotion. "When I started running, it was a dream for me to be the fastest ever Maltese marathon runner. To achieve this is fantastic," he said once he had calmed down.

In truth, Balzan has seen a number of dreams come to life since making his breakthrough in the sport that he started to take with added seriousness five years ago when he was already thirty.

"I've worked extremely hard for this result and it was my intention to run a very fast marathon time. My coach altered my training as I've had less time to train but also because he was convinced that my preparation needed a change to take in more recent theories of long distance running," he explained. "Even the way I paced myself during the race was different and I have to say that it worked brilliantly."

Of course, every marathon is different from another so it is hard to compare the results achieved over different courses. This, however, should not diminish Balzan's achievements as John Buhagiar - another great of Maltese athletics who himself set a time of 2.26.46 at the London Marathon back in 2000 - agreed: "it is a fantastic result and I'm very happy for him."

Yet no one in Sliema yesterday could have been as happy as Balzan. "I've got to thank my coach Roger Zammit for his faith in me as well as my sponsors, Ronhill and Diadora. Above all, I have to thank my family for their support."

Although so much attention was justifiably focused on Balzan, it would be disrespectful to forget the fantastic achievement of Joshua Kipchumba. The Kenyan athlete not only won the marathon but also set a new record, lowering the overall best by 31 seconds.

Kipchumba had already been in Malta two years ago and on that occasion he had also won the marathon albeit with a much slower time of 2:21 flat. At the time, he admitted that it was possible to run much faster and he proved that yesterday.

"It was much different this year from last time," he said afterwards. "Two years ago I ran the whole route on my own but this time I had Julius (Kirwa Choge) with me for most of the race so it was much better."

The two constantly run together all over Italy so it was no surprise that they helped each other out. Yet both were keen to stress that neither one acted as a pace maker for the other. "We spoke about the race beforehand," Kirwa Choge, who came in second with a time of 2:20:35, admitted. "But both of us were determined to go out and win. I didn't hold anything back but Joshua took the lead from early on and I couldn't haul him back."

Similarly, both were in agreement that the marathon's time can be improved. "Oh, it most definitely can," Kipchumba confirmed. "And I intend to be back next year to do so."

Third place went to Joachim Nshimirmana of Burundi with a time of 2.20.59.

Back to Back Success for Hili

Winner last year, Carmen Hili confirmed her status as the strongest Maltese athlete in the marathon distance when she too registered a great time of 3.01.48 which was just marginally worse then the marathon's record.

Nevertheless, it still meant an improvement of almost five minutes from last year's winning time and her personal best over the distance, making Hili's joy at the finishing line more than understandable. "I owe all this to God," she said. "I have to thank my family, my sponsors of, Ronhill and Diadora for all their support. But above all I have to thank God because he gives me the strength to run."

"It was very hard out there because I was all alone so I had to focus completely on my time. Yet I stuck to it and managed what for me is a special result."

"During the race I was thinking of the record and of going below the three hours but ultimately I didn't manage that. Yet it isn't a huge disappointment and is something to aim for next time."

Another Maltese athlete, Marisa Muscat, came in second with a time of 3.16.17 whilst Petra Schiesewitz was third with 3:28.27.

Emotions Overflow as Walsh Wins Half Marathon

Carol Walsh, normally such a jovial character at the finishing line, broke down in tears after once again winning the Malta Half Marathon (1:22:17) and with good reason. "My son had a very bad accident two weeks ago," she explained "so I've been spending most of my time in hospital. It has been a very tough time for me but I couldn't miss the half-marathon partly, perhaps, because it is also a distraction for me."

"However, I also want to dedicate this win to my son as well as all the surgeons who operated on him and who have done a fantastic job."

Angela Sammut was the second female athlete in which was a pleasant surprise seeing that injury has greatly restricted her activity in recent months. "I've barely had any training," she admitted "so I didn't expect to do well. At first Joelle (Cortis) opened up a gap on me but I tried to keep that to a minimum. Then when we came to the final climb I knew that I could overtake her which I managed to do."

The overall winner of the Half-Marathon was Briton James Douglas who returned to Malta to defend the title that he won last year.

"I don't mind the heat," he said when asked about the day's warm weather joking that "my knees are getting older so they need a bit of warming up!"

"This past year has been tough on me. I've changed job, moved house twice and haven't been able to dedicate as much time as I wanted to running particularly over these past two months."

"Yet my coach Ivan Rozhnov had a lot of faith in me and said that I had to do a time of sub 1:10 and I'm happy to prove him right. My thanks go to him as well as my sponsors and Ronhill."

Second place went to Ciaran Doherty ahead of the first Maltese in the form of Brian Magri who just preceded Robert Attard.

In fact, the two local athletes gave way to an interesting duel all along the route with Magri starting the race with a much faster pace than Attard. His experience, however, allowed Attard to eat away at Magri's lead but ultimately he couldn't completely overhaul him and had to make do with fourth overall.

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