(photo credit: )
The strongest winds recorded since the seventh edition in 1983 spoiled the top runners' chances of breaking the course record at the Tiberias Marathon, but they didn't take away from a record number of participants on Thursday.
Some 760 runners took part in the marathon and over 4,500 in the other events, including the 12-kilometer and school children's races.
Kenya's John Rotich won the event in two hours, 15 minutes and 43 seconds, nearly three minutes short of the record set by Ethiopian Moges Taya three years ago.
Haile Satayin finished fourth overall in 2:16:59 to win the Israeli title for the first time in his career. Asaf Bimro (2:19:18) was second among Israelis and seventh overall.
Nili Abramski (2:54:49) outlasted competition from Ethiopian Menichel Seraw (3:02:43), who was later overtaken as well by Orna Blau (2:56:47) to win the womens' crown for the third year in a row.
It was Abramski's seventh win in Tiberias and her 51st Israeli championship in all races.
Warm weather and strong winds on the east side of Lake Kinneret near Ein Gev slowed the runners by several minutes and ended hopes for top results.
Marathon expert Arik Cox concluded that the runners' pace was quite fast and, if not for the wind, the course record and Israeli record could have been broken. Satayin set the Israeli mark in Venice, Italy, at 2:14:21 in 2003.
"It's hard for someone with my build to compete in these winds. It pushed me back," Satayin said. Nevertheless, he said he was happy with his result.
Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved said that he was disappointed he wouldn't be awarding the $40,000 prize promised to whomever could break the course record, but then announced that for the 30th edition next year, a record-setter would earn $42,195 - a dollar for every meter he runs.
Rotich said that he planned to come back next year to defend his title. "Next time we will run under 2:10:00 if there is no run and there are pace-setters," he said.
A lead pack of 10 runners stuck together for the first 30 kilometers, before Satayin made his move.
"At 30 [kilometers], I felt good and decided to pull away... [but] at 36 or 37 [km], it was hard for me to breath and I was glad just to finish."
In the last five km, Satayin and Kenya's Reuben Toroitich overtook each other a number of times, but in the end it was the visiting runner that held up, edging the Israeli by 22 seconds. Two-time defending champion Habtamu Bekele of Ethiopia finished second in 2:16:23.
Officially listed as 50-years-old, Satayin is the oldest winner of the Israeli title. However, the runner maintains that he is actually 43 and that an error on his Ethiopian birth certificate cut seven years from his birth date.
Bimro congratulated his friend and sporting rival on his performance. "He was better that me," Bimro said of Satayin.
The two engaged in a spontaneous embrace shortly after crossing the finish line.
Abramski, 35, was pleasantly surprised by her performance. "I didn't believe yesterday that I could win," she said.
"Two months ago I had only a five percent chance of winning due to injuries. I guess it's true that experience wins."
The Jordan River Hotel awarded Abramski two weeks at the hotel for her victory - on the condition that she visit Tiberias schools and work with children during her stay.
Some 1,500 IDF soldiers also raced in different capacities. The Golani Brigade won the competition between army units, while Maglan was victorious among commandos.
Plans are already underway for next year's race, set for Saturday, January 4.
Deputy Mayor Dror Lalush is working on a week-long happening that will include a womens' walk race, bike races and more.