Reaction to the cancellation of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon continues to pour in as the fallout hits home for approximately 70,000 racers who were planning on running on February 9.
China's coronavirus has claimed its first major sporting event outside the mainland as the city's biggest race was cancelled because of public health and safety concerns. Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made the announcement in a 90-minute press conference Saturday as she declared the highest level of emergency.
The outbreak, which has now claimed 56 lives with more than 2,000 cases confirmed, originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and now has reported cases in multiple countries including six in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong's Hanniel Chow Hon-nip, who had the top time for any local at 2:25:57 last year (16th overall), said it is going to be tough for runners for awhile as they process the emotional letdown.
"I believe that every runner has worked hard to prepare for it and it really sad not to be able to see the fruits of the toil," said the 22-year-old. "But then we also have to realise that the HKAAA made a wise choice in cancelling the race."
Gone Running's Peter Hopper, who runs a local group which has been helping numerous runners prepare for the race, said the past 24 hours had been full of emotion as the news reached those training for the 42.195 kilometre trek that starts in Tsim Sha Tsui and ends in Victoria Park.
"It's of course really sad that it has been necessary to cancel the Standard Chartered," said Hopper, who has been holding weekly training sessions for the race. "I know how people feel after training diligently leading up to this and it is a big disappointment. However, at this stage, not knowing how serious the coronavirus can be, it is better to err on the side of caution. I am sure it was not an easy decision to make."
Mainland Chinese runners have already faced a wave of cancellations with the upcoming Wuhan and Wuxi marathons axed and others scheduled as far ahead as June provisionally suspended. The overall reaction has been that of understanding, despite many runners having already booked hotels and plane tickets.
On the WeChat accounts of large race registration platforms Zuicool and iRanShao, the cancellation of the race was announced but appear to have disabled their comment sections. On one commercial WeChat account dedicated to marathon runners, users expressed surprise the Hong Kong government had not cancelled the marathon during the protests but was now doing so because of the virus.
"I was ready to run for my third year and did not think that (the race) would be cancelled not because of HK separatists making trouble, but because of an epidemic. I have just cancelled my flights and hotel," wrote one.
A Weibo running account had similar comments, including one which stated, "I would never have thought this race would be cancelled because of this reason."
Bhoovarahan Desikan, 52, was planning on having the 2020 edition be his 100th marathon. His first marathon was in Hong Kong in 2005 and the 2020 race would have been his 15th. He ran marathons in Seoul, Moscow, Shenzhen and Taipei all last year. He said he "fully understands" the reason for cancellation and has no complaints, and will look to another race in the near future.
"We can't control everything in life," said Desikan, who was going to run with a number of friends from his running group, which is based out of Tung Chung. "As long as I am fit and alive to run, there will always be a marathon around."
Hong Kong runner Christy Yiu Kit-ching, who was targeting a top five finish in hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo before she had to pull out due to an injury, said public health and safety are paramount to the race.
A post shared by 姚潔貞 Christy Yiu (@yiukitching) on Jan 25, 2020 at 7:54pm PST
"Although I have an foot injury and decided not to participate few weeks before, as one of the Hong Kong runners, I still feel disappointed with the cancellation of (the marathon)," she said in a statement. "Nevertheless, the health of runners and prevention the spread of SARI (severe acute respiratory infections) are the first priority of whether we should hold or not."
Yiu, 31, who competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, said the race has been in question for multiple reasons since this summer.
"In fact, many of us has worried about the cancellation or the arrangement of (the marathon) since last year when the draw lots was launched. I'm sure everyone has noticed that lots of competitions have also already been cancelled due to the the social violence."
Ireland's Caitriona Jennings, who competed for her country in the marathon during the 2012 Olympics in London, and now lives in Hong Kong, was planning on running the race February. She echoed Yiu's statement that this was the right decision by the government.
"I'm very disappointed that he race has been cancelled as I have been targeting it since November and was looking forward to racing Hong Kong's top athletes as well as the international field," said the 39-year-old. "That said, public health is much more important and I fully agree that it was the right decision by the organizers."
The coronavirus has already wreaked havoc on the city's lucrative horse racing scene as Monday's Lunar New Year race meeting at Sha Tin is now closed to the public (but will still take place), as well as Wednesday's Happy Valley race. Lam also announced that local schools will be closed until February 17.
Amy Mumford, who is a mother of five and cancer survivor, said running and competing gives her a formidable sense of self and empowerment. She said she has been getting up at three or four in the morning out in Clearwater Bay as part of her training and regular running routine.
"The coronavirus is spreading rapidly and it seems unavoidable to have had to cancel the Standard Chartered Marathon," said the 41-year old who recently won the China Coast Marathon. "There will be many people as devastated as I am. All the training, compromise, nutrition and emotion involved. I think the most important aspect is everyone's safety and health … running makes my heart sing and for all those other runners out there, see you next year."
Hong Kong expat, Aaron Tennant, who is originally from the UK and was hoping to break the four hour barrier in his race, said he is definitely dealing with mixed emotions given the amount of effort he had put into his preparation.
"It is frustrating to see the training go to a waste," said the 30-year-old. "But I completely understand the decision to cancel the marathon. I will look for an alternative, and so will the 70,000 other runners."
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