ABU DHABI // Poverty remains a great equaliser for the human spirit. Destitution has produced writers, actors, entrepreneurs and athletes of the highest calibre, strengthened by their efforts to break free from their humble surroundings. Running acquires literal meaning in this context. For most of Africa's youngsters, running away from their problems is a reasonable prospect.
Patrick Makau Musyoki, the favourite in today's men's race in the Zayed International Half Marathon taking place in the capital, belongs in this category. "There are many like me in Kenya who want to lead a better life through athletics, but not all make it to the top," says the 24-year-old Musyoki. "I had to undergo a lot of hardships and was only interested in getting a better life through my running abilities.
"It was very tough at the start but life is beginning to look better. My goal is to be at the 2012 London Olympics, and I am working hard to achieve that. I have had some success in recent times and hopefully my performances will improve with time." Musyoki holds the second fastest half marathon time at 58mins and 53secs, which he achieved when winning the 2008 Ras al Khaimah Half Marathon. His compatriot, Samuel Wanjiru, who won the 2007 event ahead of him in that emirate, holds the world record at 58mins and 52secs.
Musyoki is hopeful of continuing his recent good form by winning the race in Abu Dhabi, the richest half marathon in the world with prize money of US$300,000 (Dh 1.1 million) to the winner from a prize pot of $2.72m. "The Zayed Half Marathon has drawn some of the best distance runners in the world. I know most of these guys and they are all out to gun me down," he said. "I like that kind of challenge and the pressure of this race will bring out the best in me, hopefully."
Musyoki won the World Half Marathon Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last year. He won silver at the 2007 IAAF World Road Running Championships and 2008 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. He was part of the Kenya team that won the team race at both. He made his marathon debut at the 2009 Rotterdam Marathon, finishing fourth and finishing in a respectable time of 2 hours, 6mins and 14secs.
Musyoki took up competitive running in 2001 but it was not until the 2006 season he came to prominence after winning the Tarsus International Half Marathon in Turkey in his first sojourn outside Africa. Leading the international women's field is another Kenyan, Mary Keitany, who believes the world record is within her reach. She missed breaking the world record, set by the Netherlands' Lornah Kiplagat, by 11 seconds in England in October and the 27-year-old said she felt she was improving with every race after returning to competition following the birth of her son, Jared, last year.
"I took a break from athletics and my return has been much better," she said. "I started in May with a 10 kilometre race in Bangaluru, India. "The Abu Dhabi race is my sixth and I feel I have reached a good point in my career to run a strong race. It is a very strong field. There are several athletes in this field with whom I have competed before, but the margin has been very close. I would expect this race to be very close also and in a fast time. It is my first visit to Abu Dhabi and I am hopeful to make a good impression."
Organisers expect more than 15,000 participants in the 3km race for boys and girls, 6km race for men and women and the international line-up for men and women, run over 21.5km. The race starts at Marina Mall and concludes at the Emirates Palace Hotel. The route will take the runners along the Corniche and back again. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org