|Marathon winner Rehima Kedir on the podium with second-placed Misiker Demissie and Gemechu Debellu (bronze).|
Rehima Kedir was in two minds for a second or two as she motored towards the finish line in the women's marathon.
The 28-year-old Ethiopian was out in front but, like the crowd gathered inside Victoria Park, had been expecting a challenge to emerge from two-time winner Misiker Demissie down the stretch.
With victory in sight, Kedir quickly stole a half-glance over her shoulder and then took a longer, harder look just to make sure the marathon was hers for the taking.
A broad smile then broke out across her face as she crossed the line to win in 2:34:53 and Kedir celebrated by kneeling down and kissing the ground.
"I wasn't sure whether or not to look," she said while waiting to collect US$65,000 for her efforts. "But when I saw the distance between us I knew I would win."
Demissie took second in 2:35:05, with Gemechu Debellu third in 2:35:18, making it an all-Ethiopian affair.
Kedir had made it look easy but she said it was anything but as a tight hamstring with about 32 kilometres completed had threatened to put paid to her chances.
"But by the time we got to around 41 kilometres it had cleared and I was confident then that I was going to win the race," she said.
The victory goes with her win at the Beirut marathon in November. Kedir said she still hadn't given herself much of a hope heading into the race, despite her good recent form.
"I thought the other women would just be too strong," said Kedir, who was making her first appearance in the city. "But this is the best I have raced, even better than Beirut where I ran 2:33."
If there were any nerves as Kedir's big moment loomed, the Ethiopian wasn't showing them but it must have been a different case for race organisers heading into the race.
Poster girl Demissie - going for an historic three-peat of victories - had been conspicuous by her absence during promotional activities in the several days before the event and no one seemed quite sure of what to make of the situation.
"It was a bit embarrassing," the runner said after the race. "The truth is I just missed my flight from the United States and only got in on Saturday so I am a little bit tired today, a little bit sick, but I am happy. I expected to win the race but second still makes me happy."
Despite the distractions, Demissie gave herself every chance in the race and said she had planned to muster one last charge at Kedir heading into Victoria Park but had found her tanks were empty. Regardless, she vowed to be back again to try to regain her crown.
"I just like Hong Kong so I will just keep coming back," said the 25-year-old. "The wind made it difficult for everyone today. I'm not really happy with my time but what can you do. Next year I will be back for sure. I just like the city, I like the people, and I like the weather."
Whether Debellu was of the same opinion was left open to debate as she huddled under a blanket and clutched a heat pack after finishing third.
The 33-year-old, who finished second here in 2010, said she had been surprised by the conditions that greeted athletes, and had experienced trouble with the blustery winds throughout the race.
"But it was difficult for everyone," she said. "I think it was still a good effort and to finish with my friends makes it very special."