The 2022 Econet Victoria Falls Marathon lived to its billing on Sunday, attracting over 4 500 local and foreign athletes as the event made a strong return to the racing calendar after a three-year absence due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The popular marathon, this year attended by athletes from over 30 countries, saw Moses Tarakinyu, who won the 21km race in 2019 – the last time the race was run – defend his title in just over 01 hour 03 minutes and 30 seconds, followed by Isaac Mpofu in second place, and Wellington Varevi in third.
In the female category Caroline Mhandu came first after clocking a time of 01:18:50, while Bertha Sitariko and Constance Nyasango came in second and third respectively.
In the full marathon 42km, Jonathan Chinyoka took the first prize ahead of Blessing Waison and Kelvin Pangiso after finishing the race in a time of 02:18:10 hours. In the female category, Patience Murove outran Olivia Chitate and Ethel Sibanda with a personal best time of 02:47:31.
Econet Chief Operating Officer Kezito Makuni said the event was a great success, given that it attracted more participants this year than it did in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. He said this demonstrated the marathon’s “pulling power, and its position as one of Africa’s premier racing events”.
“The last time we had this event three years ago, we had nearly 3 500 athletes. We were targeting 5 000 athletes this year, and I am told we nearly reached that target as quite a number of people turned late yesterday for registration and were unfortunately turned away as the registration had already closed,” he said.
Mr Makuni said Econet will continue to support the marathon to promote wellness across the country and beyond, and to market Zimbabwe as a prime tourist destination in the world.
“We are proud to be the main sponsors of this event, and will certainly continue to support it because of the wellness and economic benefits it brings to the nation, especially to the tourism and hospitality industries,” he said.
He reiterated that he was confident this year’s marathon, coming on the heels of the devastation caused by the COVID pandemic on the local tourism industry, had given a much-needed fillip to the country’s tourism industry.
Official figures show that Zimbabwe’s tourism industry lost more than US$1 billion between 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, because of the travel restrictions it brought, which led to a massive fall in demand for tourism and hospitality facilities.
“I believe the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon helps drive the government’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) programme, that seeks to kick-start tourism and attract both corporate and individual participants to the country’s hospitality and tourism destinations.
Speaking at the prize-giving ceremony, Victoria Falls Mayor Councillor Somveli Dlamini commended Econet and the organizers of the marathon for bringing back tourists to the resort town.
“It is commendable that we have risen above our challenges and have been given another shot of life after two depressing years.
“The Econet Victoria Falls Marathon continues to draw huge numbers of spectators and participants across the world, a crucial activity for the promotion of tourism,” he said.