Japan’s Kazufumi Ose really loves the 9 Dragons and he proved it in the best possible way by fighting tooth and nail to beat France’s Julien Chorier and take the overall victory. After losing nearly 9 minutes to Chorier on the 50 miles on Saturday, Ose attacked halfway through Sunday’s 50k race and reached the finish line with an advantage of 12 minutes. Magdalena Boulot lived up to her status as pre-race favourite and won the women’s 50/50, although local runner Jcy Ho gave her some stress during the 50 miles race. The 9 Dragons Ultra, with its quite unique 50/50 format, has grown into a showcase ultra trail event for Hong Kong and a genuine test for even the international elite runners who traveled to take part in it.
Running conditions were generally smooth, although perhaps more warm and humid than usual this time of year, particularly on Sunday. The two courses are in a sense typical Hong Kong with a very high dose of stairs and steps. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, as one Ruth Theresia found out. The Indonesian ATM Champion was never in her element and struggled her way to the finish on both days, well down the leaderboards. Still, it was another example of her determination to finish what she starts and learn from the experience.. Many elites, such as UTMB winner Francesca Canepa, threw in the towel quite early.
Julien Chorier was one international star who did have the knife between his teeth and go full gas for the win. Kazufumi Ose, winner of the 50 miles race in 2017 and second behind John Ellis on the 50/50 last season, pushed him forward all day on Saturday. Sabah’s Milton Amat, a typical fast starter, tried to keep up in third place. Amat, who had been unable to fight for the ATM Championship at the end of last year due to a malaria attack, was clearly back at his best level. His experience of doing the 9 Dragons in 2018 - 4th on 50/50 - of course helped him to prevent a meltdown, even though local hero John Ellis did catch up with him in the later stages of Saturday’s 50 miles. The Hong Kong-based Australian struggled all weekend with a calf injury sustained a week ago. His grit brought him a well-earned third place, which he then defended successfully on Sunday’s 50k against Amat, Hisashi Kitamura and Salomon Wettstein. Ellis has ATM Championship ambitions this season, yet may need some recovery time first. Kitamura, 4th in the ATM Championship 2018, celebrated one year of ultra trail running by improving from 19th to 5th on the 50/50! On Sunday he was one of the fastest finishers by catching Milton Amat at the end and putting enough distance between him and Wettstein, who had beaten him a day earlier.
There was competition between runners everywhere, but the biggest battle of course took place all the way up front between Chorier and Ose. The Frenchman seemed surprised when Ose returned to him just over halfway on Saturday, he then made a blitz pit-stop at CP5 that caught Ose a bit off-guard. The Japanese runner was again forced to chase and that cost him energy in the final two sections. Chorier crossed the finish line with a bonus of 8’54”. As soon as the 50k began on Sunday, Chorier looked totally in control. He shadowed Ose for approx 25 km until the Japanese began to put on the pressure and accelerate. The high humidity perhaps not in his favour, Chorier cracked and had to let Ose go. The beginning of a cat-and-mouse race till the end. However, bit by bit Ose pulled further away from his rival. Thanks to Dot Track Asia and its GPS tracking platform, it was an exciting finale to follow for everyone tuning in, and after Ose had arrived the countdown began. Over 12 minutes later, Julien Chorier appeared, conceding defeat to Ose by just 3’51” after 17-and-a-half hours of running in two days…
Jcy Ho was surprisingly strong on the 50 miles, running virtually together with top favourite Magdalena Boulot until CP4. There, just before sunrise, the Hong Kong runner took (too much?) time and lost sight of the American for good. Boulot was in charge from then on, including on Sunday where she was unchallenged by other 50/50 athletes. Jcy Ho held on to second place, and in third on both days came Malaysia’s Christine Loh. Nicknamed ‘the Pocket Rocket’ by some, Christine Loh is the 2017 winner of Penang Eco 100 miles and a runner with ATM championship ambitions this season. Including last weekend’s 9 Dragons, she also has all four ultra trail points races in Thailand on her agenda.
Chengdu-based American Justin Andrews dominated the 50 miles single stage on Saturday. An upset stomach threatened to spoil the party for him, but he fought his way to the finish. Philippines’ Koi Grey ran a smart race. Contrary to his usual style, he started out conservatively and then began to move up the leaderboard until he had second place in sight. Twisting his ankle at km 71 ruined his chances. Kurt Evans, Ander Iza Rekakoetxea and Takefumi Yamamoto preceeded him at the finish. The women’s 50 miles was won by Edith Fung, who beat Fredlyn Alberto from Philippines by over an hour. The podium was completed by Mokwan Chan.
The single stage 50k was not a points race for the ATM Championship, but saw some excellent runs by regional top performers. Deng Guomin from Shenzhen beat the course record to win the 50k in 6:09:21 ahead of Yuta Suda and Blake Turner. In the women’s Charlotte Tacquet was strongest in a fantastic battle between several women, including Sandi Menchi - strongest finisher - and 2017 ATM Champion Kim Matthews, who returned to the ultra scene after more than a year of hip injury problems that at one point even threatened her competitive running ‘career’.