The breath of the Minsk Half Marathon felt well in advance of the start of the competition: the metro was full of people in sports uniform and jerseys with numbers.
The participants filled Pobeditelei Avenue from the Palace of Sports to the Minsk Hero City obelisk. There were those who had not signed up but decided to run. Vadim Devyatovsky, the head of the Belarusian Athletics Federation, said that the event has brought together around 30,000 participants from 51 countries, and the registration for the 5.5km race ended a few days before the start. BelTA reporters attended the sporting event which coincided with the celebration of the 950th anniversary of Minsk.
This year the 5.5km and 10km races started at 10:00, the 21.1km races at 12:30.
The participants were welcomed by Belarus' Sport and Tourism Minister Alexander Shamko, First Vice President of the National Olympic Committee Andrei Astashevich, Minsk Mayor Andrei Shorets and head of the Belarusian Athletics Federation Vadim Devyatovsky.
Head of the Belarusian Athletics Federation Vadim Devyatovsky looked happy and excited: this year the Minsk event drew 30,000 participants. The Minsk mayor fired the pistol to begin the race. A flow of people carrying flags, wearing unusual attire gave cameramen many splendid opportunities for good shots. The participants gradually overcame the starting line, which took seven minutes. Maksim Yushchenko was the first to overcome the 5.5km distance in 16 minutes 39 seconds.
Maksim said that he was preparing for this distance. Running 10km requires another approach. He said he tried to run 21km but thinks he is not ready yet to compete with professional athletes.
“I am a police officer. We do a lot of training and running to perform well on and off duty. Emotions are great. The organization is at a high level,” the winner shared his impressions.
The 10km winner was announced later. It was Pavel Mikhnyuk who showed the time of 33 minutes 44 seconds. “The victory always brings pleasure. I trained as usual. It was my second attempt. As for the half marathon, I do not feel ready for it yet,” said Pavel.
One of the finishers, Yuri, carried the flag of the team of the bank he represented. Yuri said that he did not do special training for the event. “The city is full of smiling people. It is a true festival. Everyone will be able to test themselves and what they are capable of today,” Yuri said.
Veteran runner Vasily Zemtsov from Mogilev has been doing sport for more than 20 years. Today he chose the 10km route. He takes part in almost every running event in Belarus and also abroad. The 2017 Minsk Half Marathon was Vasily Zemtsov's third attempt. “People supported me during the marathon. The route is quite difficult. The atmosphere is great, colorful. Many thanks to the organizers,” Vasily Zemtsov said.
Taking part in the marathon were also foreigners. Evgeny Barinov came from St Petersburg to run the 5.5km route. “Minsk is a beautiful city. The route was easy at first. Anyway, winning is not everything,” Evgeny said. Despite his young age, Evgeny has taken part in marathons back home in St Petersburg, in Moscow, Italy, Spain, and Ukraine. Now it is Belarus' turn. “I will come back to Minsk and run even more next time,” he promised.
Taking part in the race were students of Belarusian universities. Rector of Belarusian State University of Physical Culture Sergei Repkin ran 5.5km in support of his university. “Today my supporters were my sister and my daughter. The daughter is keen on sports. She goes in for figure skating and also plays volleyball once in a while. She is a sports lover, so she easily agreed to help me prepare for the half marathon. We did a great job. I am happy for my students who made up a big team at the half marathon,” Sergei Repkin noted.
The rector thinks that students and citizens held this celebration of sport together. “I like the fact that Minsk universities have a sort of an unspoken competition. Last week I got a call from the rector of Belarusian State Pedagogical University. He asked me how big our team was,” he noted. “I thank all the students who came to the Sport Palace today. It would be hard to imagine the Minsk Half Marathon without our youth,” he added.
There were many students of Belarusian State University at the site, too. Student of the BSU School of Journalism Natalya Zaytseva said: “I ran 5.5km, but this is not enough for me! The race was easy; everybody was smiling and supporting each other”. It was the first marathon for Natalya. She started training in May. Unfortunately, she got a bike injury and had to miss two weeks of training.
Medals were awarded at the 5.5km and 10km finish lines UNICEF Representative in Belarus Rashed Mustafa Sarwar got his bronze prize. “The weather is great, the atmosphere is festive. The event unites people with different mindsets and from different companies. I noticed that the level of the half marathon has been growing,” Rashed Mustafa Sarwar pointed out.
Natalya Eismont, press secretary of the Belarus president, also got a medal. It was not the first time she had participated in the race. In her opinion, although the route became more difficult in comparison with last year, she managed to do well. “After the finish line I feel better than last year. Although in my opinion the route is more difficult now. It has been radically redesigned. There were two rather steep hills in the middle, at least for me as an absolute amateur. Nevertheless, while last year's race was a test of my skills, this year I've managed to wisely distribute my strength. Instead of giving everything right from the start I was listening to my body since I'd never run this distance before. I think I feel better this time thanks to this tactics although the final leg was difficult. However, since it's been quite some time, I am a bit rested and feel I can fly. The ambience is amazing! The weather is remarkable. There are so many people — 30,000 according to rough estimates. The number of participants and the ambience of the half marathon are self-explanatory. The city looks awesome. An amazing event,” Natalya Eismont shared her impressions.
According to the press secretary, it was pleasant to run past the bystanders, who had been rooting for the runners all the way. “We would meet people we know and we don't. They would say hello. We saw a great deal of costumed fan groups. I am pleased. Although one tries to focus on running, tries to pay no attention to distractions, tries to breathe steadily, one cannot help but rejoice together upon seeing such emotions. I love seeing Belarusians so united, Belarusians, who help and support each other. It is an astounding example of our best qualities, which we should demonstrate every day,” she was convinced.
The launch of the main race — 21.1km — was about to begin. Bystanders — there were many people, who had already run, among them — were cheering their friends and families. “It is the key experiment of my life,” a girl was anxious to share.
The singer Dyadya Vanya comes out onto the stage. Accompanied by popular song music, he congratulated Minsk on the anniversary and wished success to all the participants of the half marathon. The chairman of the Belarusian Athletics Federation joined in the well-wishing speech and started the countdown. Ready, steady… Go! A shot from the starter pistol began the race.
Thirty minutes later the runners were halfway to the finish line. There was a tough battle between them. Male and female athletes from the African countries were in the lead.
Another 30 minutes later Kiptum Maiyo of Kenya became a tow-time winner of the Minsk Half Marathon. He finished in 1:03.19. He did not break his own record this time. Lyudmila Lyakhovich of Belarus was the fastest woman of the day with the result of 1:13.53. After the race she said that she did not expect to win but was ready to put a good fight. Besides, she was happy that so many people took part in the event.
Kiptum Maiyo, the winner of the men's race, thanked for the invitation to take part in the Minsk Half Marathon and expressed hope that he would be also invited in 2018.
The last participants of the half marathon crossed the finish line. After the Minsk Half Marathon the festivities in Pobeditelei Avenue continued and lasted for several hours.
Photo by Oksana Manchuk