Reggae Marathon - A big player in local sports tourism
The Reggae Marathon was designed to stimulate sports tourism, says conceptualiser and chief organiser Alfred 'Frano' Francis. So when Japan's Kota Taniguchi crossed the line first to win the 16th staging in Negril, it confirmed what Francis had in mind.
"The genesis of this event was really to support sports tourism and boost the economy of Jamaica and that was the concept from 2001. Now we can say this is a true testimony of sports tourism in Jamaica," Francis said.
"Every year since then, we have had thousands of people coming here to participate, adding a significant amount of money to the economy of Negril," he added.
"They come from a wide array of countries and they have become ambassadors for this marathon. It is beginning to become a huge deal and we are happy about that," continued the dreadlocked Francis.
Taniguchi is on an exchange programme between the Prefecture of Tottori, Japan, and Westmoreland. The city and parish were twinned in an official ceremony in the Asian nation last year.
Taniguchi crossed the line in two hours 38 minutes and 49 seconds to win the event ahead of Jamaica's marathon standout Rupert Green, who was second in 2:43:49, with Brian Polen of the US back in third place, after stopping the clock in 2:58:00.
Canadian first-time entrant Karen Warrendorf, took top spot in the female section, winning in 3:39:15. She was followed across the line by the Chinese pair of Ting Yu 3:48:19 and Sun Yingjie 3:52:01.
Pleased with his effort, Taniguchi said he was happy to win the event on his first attempt.
"It was very hot, which makes it very difficult for me to run. However, the course is flat, which is good. In Tottori, there are hills and the route is much cooler, but I think the Reggae Marathon is great," Taniguchi said through an interpreter.
It was also a first-time visit for Warrendorf. The Toronto, Canada native agreed with her male counterpart, but told The Gleaner she was delighted to have travelled so far to secure the win.
"I am so happy right now. I never thought about coming here to win. I wanted to enjoy the run and I did, but to emerge the winner is special. It is a sweet victory," she said.
Meanwhile, there was a Jamaican sweep in the men's half-marathon. Kirk Brown retained the title he won last year, topping a competitive field to win in 1:12:58.
Gregory McKenzie was not far off the pace but ended up in second spot, crossing the line in 1:13:28. Kemar Leslie ran 1:20:12 for third.
Brazilian Adelita Gomes took the female category in 1:29:03, ahead of Canadians Stephanie Zammit 1:39:03 and Yuki Chorney 1:43:56.
St Mary-based distance runner Dwayne Graham copped the top spot in the men's 10K. Gordon's winning time was 32:32, with Garfield Gordon (32:52) in second place and Andre Walker third in 34:17.
Vere Technical dominated the high-school girls' category to finish with the top two places. Brittanie Dixon ran through for first in 41:30, ahead of her teammate Kris-Ann Plummer, 41:34. Third place was taken by 14-year-old Shantay Chamberlain (14:06).
Over 2,300 runners participated, including first-time entrants from six new countries to the Reggae Marathon.
"We could not have asked for more; it has been a remarkable journey for us. The Reggae Marathon continues to grow and is certainly the biggest of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean," Francis said.
"Sixteen fulfilling years and we are satisfied. Next year, there will be more great additions and changes to make it even better, while we use this means to market what is known as Brand Jamaica across the world," he said.