Brilliant Ong wins UT Panoramic and takes ATM title!
The 2nd edition of Ultra-Trail Panoramic from Maehongson to Pai in the Northwest of Thailand was again the final 100 miler in the Asia Trail Master Championship. While participant numbers were still on the low side in 2016, this year the event attracted many hundreds of runners including some of the best ultra trail runners in Asia. And yes, the winner - Steven Ong - crowned himself the new champion in the process!
Steven did not have the best memory of his last visit to Thailand, when he had jelly legs that eventually even resulted in a DNF at Ultra-Trail Chiang Rai last October. As such, Ong made his life chasing the Asia Trail Master title much more difficult. The 40-year-old Malaysian was the hot pick for the championship after the first semester, and especially after his commanding victory at Tam Dao Mountain Trail in Vietnam. He looked to have everything under control when he traveled to Europe during the summer. But then came Chiang Rai and the zero points, when his main rivals such as Arief Wismoyono, Sefli Ahar and Manolito Divina were collecting top points everywhere in Asia.
But then came Chiang Rai and the zero points, when his main rivals such as Arief Wismoyono, Sefli Ahar and Manolito Divina were collecting large doses of points everywhere in Asia. Suddenly, it was make-or-break for Steven Ong and it all had to happen in one race: Ultra-Trail Panoramic. On paper the task was huge. Ong was facing tough competition from 2016 ATM Champion Manolito Divina, who beat him in April at the fast Sungai Menyala 50k, Italy's Alessandro Sherpa, Japan's Wataru Iino and last but not least Thailand's own Sanya Khancai. A lot of good trail runners who could steal necessary points away from Ong. As the race unfolded, Ong again adopted a sit-back and see-what-happens approach, which is becoming his trademark. After 100 km he was ranked alongside Khancai in third place, but nearly an hour down on Wataru Iino, and also Sherpa was running ahead of him. Manolito Divina, unfortunately, had already dropped out by then. AT CP2 he was visibly unwell with severe stomach issues, which ended his ATM season on a sad note.
As mobile connectivity is limited in the forest area near Pai, everyone was expecting a Japanese race victory at the finish line. Until all of a sudden, reports from the field announced the imminent arrival of Steven Ong into the finish as leader of the race! The new Asia Trail Master champion ran a very strong final section to pass both Iino and Sherpa and grab his fourth race victory of the ATM season. In fact, also Sanya Khancai still overtook the early leaders to take second place on the podium. Iino salvaged third.
In the women's race, the new Asia Trail Master champion Kim Matthews pulled out rather quickly due to stomach cramps as well. Matthews, who was certain of the ATM title following the DNS of Tahira Najmunisaa, had started her first ever 100 miles, but it wasn't to be on this occasion. Her role, however, was taken over in splendid style by another Australian runner: Joanna Kruk. Kruk, from Polish descent, raised eyebrows last October by winning Ultra Trail Chiang Rai with a formidable pace. And did she do it again! Always running right behind the top four men, she even managed to catch Alessandro Sherpa still going into the finish. Joanna Kruk lives in Australia and has been flying over for the races. If she does that five times in 2018, we have another championship contender! With three races this year, she still manages to score 1575 points and 7th place in the championship, ahead of Sandi Menchi who also 3 races in the books. Joining her on the podium of the 100 miles race were Hong Kong's Shuk Kuen and South Korea's Been Lee.