After two intense days of racing in the New Territories of Hong Kong, John Ellis and Corinne Williams crowned themselves as the so-called 9th Dragons yesterday. Both won one of the two stages - Ellis the 50 miles and Williams the 50k - but probably had to fight harder to score a win than ever before in their trail running careers. Australia's John Ellis from the Gone Running team always keeps everyone in suspense as he is a notoriously slow starter, but this time he had to dig deep to handle the Japanese duo of Kazafumi Ose and Kaito Kobayashi. In yesterday's 50k, the Japanese runners seemed to have recovered better than Ellis from the tough 50 miles the day before and took the fight to him, aided also initially by the strong Malaysian Milton Amat. On Saturday, Kazafumi Ose was leading the race until Ellis caught him with just 20K to go, and yesterday Ose and especially Kobayashi -third on Saturday but significantly behind on time - had that little extra left in the tank. John Ellis needed to protect a time advantage of 20 minutes on Ose, and he did just that albeit settling for third place in the 50k race. Kobayashi won it ahead of Ose. Milton Amat was fourth on both days, and showed that his joint victory in Borneo TMBT Ultra last year was no accident. Britain's Tom Robertshaw is still recovering from injury, and in that respect had a promising result with 6th place, just two minutes behind Jeremy Ritcey in the overall.
The women's 50/50 race was arguably even more exciting than the men's and also featured a leading trio who battled each other relentlessly on this very tough and technical race weekend. Australia’s Kellie Emmerson looked like the fastest woman in the first half of the 50 miles on Saturday, until Okinawa-based Corinne Williams and local French woman Elisa Jean De Dieu turned on their engines and began to catch up. Williams was first and wasted no time to put Emmerson under pressure. However, it was Elisa Jean De Dieu from Team Uglow who suddenly became the quickest woman on the course as she bridged the gap to Williams and even took a small lead. Williams, third at Izu Trail Journey last December, rallied hard but struggled for grip with a completely destroyed shoe sole. In a descent in the final section of the race, Elisa Jean De Dieu opened the decisive gap and took a very big race victory. Williams was able to limit the damage to 2’38”, while Emmerson dropped back signifcantly in third place. Sunday’s 50K was bound to be a thriller, and yet again, Emmerson and Williams were quicker “out of the blocks” than Elisa Jean De Dieu. The duo was helped by 50K single stage protagonist Sandi Menchi, who set a quick pace in her own determination to win that race category. Elisa Jean De Dieu was again just a few minutes behind. Contrary to Saturday, however, she was unable to get to the front. In the final section of the race, she felt the accumulation of efforts more than the others and would settle for third place in the race, losing over 1 hour to stage and overall winner Corinne Williams. It should be mentioned that Chris Yee Ting Kwan from Hong Kong delivered a great performance in the shadow of the big three, by finishing fourth in an overall time of less than 23 hours, only 17 minutes more than Kellie Emmerson.
Corinne Williams joins Ruth Theresia at the top of the ATM Championship ranking with 550 points. The 9 Dragons was a SuperTrail race, as was UTKC last week and as is Cordillera Mountain Ultra next weekend. In the men's championship, John Ellis joins Jay jantaraboon in third place behind Arief Wismoyono and Dean Perez, who both already ran two points races this season.
The 50 miles single stage category was another battleground last Saturday. In this one, Thailand-based Briton Harry Jones opened his ATM account with a great but hard-fought win over China’s Deng Guomin and Austria’s Michael Skobierski. Deng Guomin, from Shenzhen, proved to be the strongest climber of the trio, yet missed a marker, went off-trail and saw his advantage disappear like snow under the sun. Jones and Skobierski caught up and would not give him a second chance in the final 20K of the race. Jones attacked at the start of the final section and managed to pull away from a resilient Deng Guomin, while Skobierski settled for third. Jones finished in 10:41:22, 1’40” ahead of the Chinese runner. Harry Jones is on the start list of Cordillera Mountain Ultra next week, and hopes to be recovered for that by then.
Itsuko Uemiya was the fastest woman in this category, which was the B-race and therefore still valid for points in the ATM championship. The 50K category was not valid for points.
The 9 Dragons proved again to be one of the hardest trail races in Hong Kong, if not the hardest. Current unofficial (!) finish rates are pending but are likely to be well below 50%. Not only are the two race courses as tough as they get in this part of Asia, but the CUTs are tight as well. To ease the pain, the organisation made sure all refreshment stations are appropriately stocked.