Belachew wins Hong Kong Marathon in record time

Hong Kong (AFP) - Ethiopia's Bizuneh Melaku Belachew danced on the finish line as he smashed his personal best to win the Hong Kong Marathon Sunday in a new course record.

The 27-year-old performed a jig to celebrate with the runner-up, Kenya's Julius Kipyego Keter, who finished just three seconds behind, because "I'm so happy".

Belachew slashed almost a minute off the course record to cross the line in two hours, 10 minutes and 31 seconds.

"I was not expecting to break the course record but after 33 kilometres I thought it is possible - and I did it," he said.

Belachew, who paid his own expenses to join the race, now plans to buy a house in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with his US$65,000 winner's cheque.

Belachew added of his Kenyan rival: "I didn't know him before but he's my friend now. We celebrated together."

Ethiopia also claimed first place in the women's race, with Gulume Tollesa Chala crossing the line in 2:33:39.

Last year's men's champion, Mike Kiprotich Mutai of Kenya, came sixth and told AFP the recent loss of his mother took the shine off his performance.

"I didn't train for the last two weeks," he said. "But I didn't want to drop out. I was running for my family."

The 42 km course was run under blue skies on Sunday in contrast to the heavy rain which drenched last year's event.

However, pollution levels in the city were classed as "unhealthy for sensitive groups" with the Air Quality Index at 126.

And the event was marred when a 52-year-old woman collapsed on the finish line after completing the 10 km race. She was in critical condition in hospital, the South China Morning Post reported.

Two men, aged 46 and 23, were also in critical condition, the paper added, while other local media said a total of 11 runners had been taken to hospital.

Among the 74,000 runners pounding the streets was Cantopop star Stephanie Cheng who took on the 10km.

"The crowds were great today -- a lot of college students -- and the weather was perfect," she said.