BY EMMANUEL UNA
The Obudu International Mountain Race has continued to provide maximum fun and entertainment to the large crowd that annually besieges the mountain top.
The size of the prize money has increased from 180,000 USD to 280,000 USD and the children race has been included to build a generation of young ones.
The excitement and fun during the 2013 edition, as others before it, started at the base of the imposing multiple mountains as columns of native women colourfully arrayed in different age groups wriggle their bodies to sonorous rhymes and native ballads to celebrate the arrival of the spectators and to welcome them to the beautiful ambience of the mountain.
Closely at the heels of the welcome fanfare, as always, was the excitement of how to access the peak of the mountain where the finish line for the athletes is drawn which, when viewed from the base, gives one the image of an ant standing before an elephant. The way up through, either the cable car or the snaky land route, brought goose pimples in some while in others it provided endless fun and adventure.
The journey up the mountain, through the cable car, afforded the spectators the rare opportunity to behold the picturesque landscape made of rocky incline that cascades from the top hill down wards to the labyrinth of undulating steep valleys covered in tropical mangrove forest that provides canopy for the rare animal species like lions, elephants, anaconda which inhabit the mountains. At the peak of the mountain is the breathtaking view of savannah grassland closely cropped by the hand of nature to serve as all year food to fatten the famous ranch cattle.
As the crowd congregated at the mountain top, the excitement was exacerbated by the possible outcome of the race as everyone was eager to catch a glimpse of which among the one thousand athletes participating in the race would breast the tape first. The question on every lip was will the race maintain its uncanny tradition of producing new male and female champions or would the jinx be broken with 2012 champions successfully defending their titles?
The answer did not take long to come as in less than an hour after kick-off, the commentators started announcing that the female runners were less than three kilometres away from the finish line. And hardly had they finished saying this than the faces of Ethiopian runners started showing at the last turn, some two kilometers to finish line and the crowed expectedly started hooting with excitement. Tugging closely to one another, the first three females, all Ethiopians, each below the age of twenty three years, raced towards the finish line. Their boxer shorts drenched in sweat and faces looking pale, it was a test of human endurance as they completed the race at a time earlier than the previous times.
New champions were produced; in the male category, last year’s winner, Abebe Dinkesa of Ethiopia, was displaced to second place by a Kenyan, Rono Philemon, while an Ugandan, Geofrey Kusuro, came third.
Philemon won the 13-kilometre race in 1 hour, 43 seconds, while Dinkesa made it in 1 hour, 57 seconds and Rono in I hour, 2 minutes, 8 seconds.
In the female category, the Ethiopians swept the 9.6 kilometres race, when twenty two year old Jenet Yellew touched the finish line in 58 minutes, fifty five seconds, Selem Ahere came second in fifty nine minutes, forty eight seconds while Berha Afere finished third at one hour, two seconds.
The excitement was overwhelmingly resounding when native son, Cletus Eyo, was the first Nigerian male to emerge while the first Nigerian female was Deborah Pam from Plateau State. They carted home 2,000 USD each.
The first prizes for both male and female athletes 50,000 USD dollars, 20,000 USD for the second place winners and 9,000 USD for third place winners.
For the second year running, the race track was moved from the tarred road to rough terrain which stretches through streams, rocky slopes and mountainous stretches.
Senator Liyel Imoke, the Cross River State governor, who graced the race, presented the prizes to the winners in a colourful ceremony at the Ranch Resort.
A total of 280,000 USD was won in the race, which is the 9th in the series, the first having taken place in 2005.
Imoke said the state has consistently funded the race because of the value the state places on sports. “We should not be calculating everything in terms of naira and kobo but the fact the value that comes with this race”.
The state, he said, has become internationally recognised because of the race which has made many people also to visit the Ranch Resort to savour the international facilities in the place.
He said from next year government officials, including himself, will no longer be accommodated at the Obudu Mountain Resort during the mountain race in order to allow visitors to be accommodated at the resort.