Cerebral palsy athlete completes ultramarathon

TAIWAN - Malaysian athlete Cheng Zhee-long became the first cerebral palsy sufferer to compete in the Soochow International Ultramarathon Race in Taiwan yesterday.

Hard-core runners from all over the world braved low temperatures and rainy weather to compete in the men's and women's 24-hour events in an annual ultramarathon competition that ended yesterday, with Japanese athletes coming out victorious in both categories.

The 28-year-old Cheng, who has taken part in more than 100 marathons, ran 75.329 km. During the last minutes of the race, Cheng, like several other runners, carried his country's national flag around the 400-meter track.

Cheng was surrounded by scores of supporters immediately after he finished the ultramarathon, despite a foot injury. He also caught his wife by surprise by giving her a kiss to thank her.

"If Soochow University invites me again, I will come back because I have started to love Taiwan," Cheng said with a smile.

Ryoichi Sekiya of Japan, 45, outpaced his male rivals with a distance of 261.365 km in the race, now in its 12th year. His compatriot Mami Kudo ran 235.129 km to win the women's title.

It was Sekiya's eighth win at the event, which drew 22 runners from Taiwan and 12 from Australia, Brazil, France, Japan and Hungary this year.

"It is strange that it is always cold and raining every time I come here," Sekiya joked at the closing ceremony.

"It is everyone's cheers and encouragement that supported me throughout the race," he added.

Kudo, for her part, said the low temperatures and rain increased the difficulty of the competition and she thanked the track-side students and volunteers for giving her the strength to finish the race.

Among the Taiwanese participants, Tsou Shuang-his, an army colonel who appeared at the closing ceremony in his dress uniform, had the best performance of 241.6 km, giving him third place in the men's category.

The Soochow ultramarathon competition was upgraded to a gold status event, one of only two in the world, due to the outstanding performance of six of the runners, the organizer said.