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Posted: April 25, 2022::  

Athletics: Austria’s President welcomes Winners in Vienna City Marathon

Support for Ukraine as Nataliya Lehonkova finishes race but does not return home

The reception of the winners by Austria’s President on the day after the race has become a nice tradition at the Vienna City Marathon. However this year Alexander Van der Bellen wanted to experience more. “Every year the winners come to see me in the Vienna Hofburg. This is always nice. So this time I decided that I have to go and see the start,“ said Alexander Van der Bellen. Austria’s President became the official starter of the 39th Vienna City Marathon on Sunday. On the next day Kenyan winners Cosmas Muteti and Vibian Chepkirui were welcomed by Alexander Van der Bellen in the Hofburg.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen with Cosmas Muteti, Vibian Chepkirui and Austria’s Lemmawork Ketema (right) as well as Nataliya Lehonkova competing in the race -Credit: VCM / Jenia Symonds

Both winners aim to come back for next year’s Vienna City Marathon on 23rd April 2023. “It is my aim to win the race for a third time in a row just as Nancy Kiprop did. And when I come back next year I want to run 2:18 here,“ said Vibian Chepkirui, who used to train with Nancy Kiprop back home in Iten. It was Nancy Kiprop’s course record which she broke on Sunday with a time of 2:20:59. “Nancy gave me some advice again before Sunday’s race and she already congratulated me on my course record and said she is proud of me,“ said Vibian Chepkirui. Nancy Kiprop won the Vienna City Marathon from 2017 to 2019 and clocked a course record of 2:22:12 three years ago. However due to an injury she is still unable to train.

The Vienna City Marathon is an event which features many different topics and initiatives during race week. Organisers are currently also developing a long-term concept with the aim of transforming the Vienna City Marathon into an event that is climate neutral by 2040. They have applied to be included in the United Nations’ programme “Sports for Climate Action“. The concept was introduced today during the reception in the Hofburg and at a press conference.

“The Vienna City Marathon has always been a race for peace. The war in the Ukraine is troubling for us and our runners as well. We try to help by supporting the initiative ‘Nachbar in Not’ (’Neighbour in Distress’). We sold wristbands with the wording ‘Running for Peace’ for five Euros and the money was donated to the ’Nachbar in Not’ initiative,“ explained Kathrin Widu, the General Manager of the Vienna City Marathon. Almost 25,000 Euros were donated from this initiative.

As Vibian Cheruiyot’s manager Julien di Maria explains Vibian Chepkirui is of course aware of the situation in Ukraine and prays for peace. While the Kenyan winner already makes plans for another return to Vienna in 2023 ten places further down a runner crossed the line on Sunday whose future is in jeopardy: Ukraine’s Nataliya Lehonkova. “I did not know that there was a Ukrainian woman in the race. But I appreciate her effort and the fact that the Vienna City Marathon invited her,“ said Vibian Cheruiyot.

Nataliya Lehonkova lives in Hmelnick which is small village in between Kiev and Lviv. Three and a half months ago the 39 year-old who has a personal best of 2:28:58 locked her house and travelled to Kyrgyzstan for high altitude training. She never returned since then. “When I left we did not expect that there would be a war,“ said Nataliya Lehonkova, who stayed for three months in Kyrgyzstan and then acclimatized in Turkey for two weeks before traveling to Vienna.

“I am in touch with neighbors via social media and they told me that it is still quiet but that they see missiles flying,“ said Nataliya Lehonkova. None of her family is in Ukraine at present. “My mother lives in Ternopol not so far from Lviv but she travelled to Heidelberg as a refugee. While my brother has been living in Miami for some time my father came from Kazakhstan. He was there but died a couple of months ago at the age of 62 after receiving a Sputnik vaccine,“ tells Nataliya Lehonkova of the terrible times she experiences.

“I will not go back to Ukraine now. I have friends in Vienna and will stay with them for one or two weeks. Then I will probably visit my mother in Heidelberg,“ said Nataliya Lehonkova, who hopes to run a couple of shorter races in the spring. On Sunday she ran 2:38:52 for 11th place in Vienna. “I had some muscle problems and felt tired. May be I trained too hard,“ said Nataliya Lehonkova.

Preparing for the Vienna City Marathon was really difficult for the Ukrainian, who represented her country in the 2016 Olympic Games marathon where she finished 87th. “Obviously the situation is terrible in Ukraine. It was mentally difficult but also physically to do the marathon training. I need all my energy for training and must stay optimistic. But this is not possible if you see these news from Ukraine. For times I try to forget what is going on. So I only checked the news in the evenings to see what happened. I could not do this in the mornings as I would then not have been able to focus on training“, said Nataliya Lehonkova. “It is of course important for me to run for Ukraine now, it also sends a message. I pray for peace daily and just hope the war will be over soon.“

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