9 Dragons: John Ellis opens his ambitious ATM campaign
The 9 Dragons Ultra in Hong Kong is the first SuperTrail of the 2019 Asia Trail Master Championship taking place across the New Territories this weekend. The 50/50 stage race and 50 miles (in actual fact 89 km this year) are both A-races, which means a lot of ATM points are up for grabs. But this being a SuperTrail, and in Hong Kong, the competition is dense. The 9 Dragons traditionally attracts international trail running stars and this season is no different with the likes of Francesca Canepa (women’s UTMB winner 2018), Magdalena Boulet and Julien Chorier. However, just how motivated are they for suffering in this gruelling stage race in Hong Kong? Because even if they say to ‘just want to enjoy’ or ‘it’s just another race’, the 9 Dragons stage race is considered the toughest ultra in the territory and the hyped-up local and regional challengers are for real! Saturday’s 50 miles has an elevation gain of over 5000 hm, and the 50k has a whopping 3500 hm. A lot of stairs, obviously, are included.
To begin with, the top 2 from last year is back: Hong Kong-based Australian John Ellis and Japan’s Kazufume Ose. From an ATM perspective, John Ellis will be one to watch in particular as he has announced to give our championship a shot this season. This “winter” in Hong Kong, not everything has been going to his liking and he seems to have become more injury-prone, but Ellis’ stamina and determination is the stuff of legends and it would be unwise to bet against him this weekend - at least for a podium finish on the 50/50. Ellis has been planning to travel to several races in the ATM Championship this year, which remains unusual for a top star in Hong Kong. A local challenger for the victory at the 9 Dragons will certainly be Law Chor Kin. This Hong Kong ultra specialist won the Penang Eco 100 miles a year ago in very impressive style indeed. Ben Duffus, Jacky Leung and Jeremy Ritcey are local podium candidates as well.
We will be very interested to see the progress of Hisashi Kitamura from Japan, now based in Kuala Lumpur, and fourth in the 2018 ATM Championship. Kitamura - a newbie in trail running - just kept on getting better last year, let’s see how he starts his 2019 campaign. There’s also quite a crowd from the Philippines in the men’s races. Carlo Chiong came to the fore of the ATM scene at the end of 2018 with a third place in CM 50 and a second spot in Fifty Mapawa. Especially the latter was interesting, as he was over an hour faster than Japan’s Tomohiro Mizukoshi. Carlo Chiong is certainly a dark horse this weekend.
And so is Malaysia’s Milton Amat. The sympathetic Sabahan ended 4th in the 9 Dragons Ultra last year and returns to get on the podium - also because he likes to have a shot at the ATM title this year. Amat, who began competitive trail running only in 2017, ended last year as seventh in the ATM Championship and - importantly - won the Bandung Ultra 100: a very technical race in Indonesia in which he distanced local hero Arief Wismoyono and Spain’s Salva Rambla. With the experience from last year in the bag, Milton Amat can cause the upset in Hong Kong this weekend. One caveat: has his body recovered well enough from a malaria attack three months ago. Another 2018 ATM top 10 performer, Michael McLean from Canada - but based in Brunei - is opening his new season here this weekend. McLean is a proper ultra runner, remember Borneo TMBT Ultra last season in which he caught six guys in the final 10 km! He should find 9 Dragons to his liking, although he can also have bad days (e.g. DNF in Ultra Trail Chiang Rai 230 in October). India’s Shashwat Rao is another runner who kicks on the type of challenge 9D poses. His performance kept improving during the 2018 season, let’s see where he is at the beginning of 2019. Singapore-based Vietnamese Trung Nguyen was 2nd in the Vietnam Jungle Marathon 70 and 4th in the Vietnam Mountain Marathon 100 last season: another one to watch out for.
In the women’s, the obvious favourite is Italy’s Canepa and it will be interesting to see how our own 2018 ATM Champion Ruth Theresia fares against her. Theresia is looking forward to her first big race of the new ATM season, yet emphasises that everything is currently based on doing well in France come late August. Other regular ATM competitors will challenge her this weekend. For instance, Carrie Jane Stander, winner of Ijen Trail 70 last September, and also Christine Loh from Malaysia. She won Penang Eco 100 miles ahead of Ruth Theresia in 2017 and has a focus on the ATM Championship this season with, amongst others, all Thailand points races on her programme.
On the single stage 50 miles race this Saturday, we will see several established ATM runners in action. From Philippines we have Mark Koi Grey, who has relaunched his running career recently, Thumbie Remigio and Patricia Ann Morota (female). Spain’s Ander Iza Rekakoetxea will also be right up there, as will Dutchman Peter van der Zon.
We will be reporting from the 9 Dragons throughout the weekend via our facebook and instagram channels.