Organisers of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon said on Tuesday that they hoped to increase the number of participants beyond the initial cap of 25,000 as they revealed details of a special cash incentive for local runners who achieve impressive times.
Before the pandemic, the SAR's biggest mass-participation sporting event had as many as 70,000 participants, and officials from the Hong Kong Association of Athletics Affiliates said at the launch of next year's event that they hope for further talks with the government on increasing the quota for the February 12 run.
“Hopefully, if the pandemic situation can be changed, we hope to negotiate with the government and see if there are chances to raise a little bit of the numbers,” the group's chairman, Kwan Kee, told reporters.
As an added incentive, local runners in the marathon will be chasing a special HK$10,000 prize; men will get the payout if they finish within three hours while the limit for women is three and a half hours.
Registration for the marathon, half-marathon and 10km races opens on Friday, with elite runners and those eligible for guaranteed places able to sign up first. Runners who want to join the public ballot for remaining places can sign up from November 15 to 21.
The marathon and half-marathon will again start in Tsim Sha Tsui, while the 10km race will begin at the Island Eastern Corridor. All races will finish at Victoria Park.
Participants will have to be triple-jabbed, and are required to take a PCR test result provided by organisers within two days of the event and present a negative rapid antigen test on race day.
Organisers had called off plans to stage a marathon this month, saying the fact that the government hadn't given final approval left too little time to conclude arrangements.
However Kwan said organisers were cooperating with the government to ensure that February's marathon is a top-quality event. That will include bringing in elite international athletes to compete for the first time since 2019, as required under the marathon's designation as a "gold label" race by World Athletics.
“We must guarantee at least six men and six women with gold label results. But I trust there will be more to come,” Kwan said.
Virginia Lo, who won the women's 10km at last year's marathon, said the return of top overseas runners was "encouraging".
“Being able to compete with international athletes is one of the best experiences for us, to be able to learn from them,” she said. “And to be able to compete with them is one of the best ways for us to learn as a runner on how to become a better runner, how to become a more professional runner like them.”
Wong Kai-lok, who won the men’s marathon, agreed, as he recalled his narrow victory over Japan’s Masashi Shirotake last year. He noted his rival or had pushed him to clock a better time in his first marathon.
“[Having] more international athletes [encourages] us to chase a better time,” Wong said.