World

Algerian Runner Abed El-Hachemi Wins 7th Olive Tree Marathon in Sfax

El-Hachemi finished first again with a 2:44 finish at the 2019 Marathon of the Olive Trees.

Nov. 5, 2019
By Julie Al-Zoubi

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As the offi­cial olive pick­ing season opened in Tunisia’s south­ern city of Sfax, run­ners from across Tunisia and neigh­bor­ing Algeria took their marks for the country’s sev­enth Marathon of the Olive Trees on Sunday.

Algerian ath­lete Abed El-Hachemi who crossed the finish line in two hours and 44 min­utes secured his second con­sec­u­tive vic­tory and received 1,000 Tunisian Dinars ($354) in prize money. He com­pleted the course around six min­utes slower than in 2018.

The crowds had quite a wait before Franco/Tunisian Philippe Houssin came in second after three hours and 39 min­utes fol­lowed in third place by Sfaxian runner Salim Bejaoui.

In the women’s marathon, Tunisia’s Mahbouba Belgacem was first to cross the finish line after run­ning for four hours and 17 min­utes. Silver and bronze medals also went to Tunisian women; Syrine Mejri came in second and Rania Houas was third across the line.

Algeria also excelled in the men’s half marathon where Housseyn Halloufi won and pock­eted 600 Tunisian dinars ($212), while fellow Algerian Hassen Halloufi came in second and Tunisia’s Khalil Soltani was the third runner home.

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Tunisian women dom­i­nated the half marathon when Chefia Hendaoui won gold, Leila Annabi secured silver and Algeria’s Lynda Hamiane came in third.

The star of the 10 km run was 85-year-old Mohamed Kazdaghli, who fin­ished the race in just over an hour beat­ing many of his younger com­peti­tors although he was pipped to the post by Algeria’s Ali Rekhrou who won the race. Tunisian runner Abdelrahim Zhoui took silver and Fares Debaya, also from Tunisia, won bronze.

Gold, silver and bronze medals for the women’s 10 km run went to Tunisian run­ners Chahira Barghouthi, Rawya Triki and Maryem Benkrayem.

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Competitors were moti­vated to par­tic­i­pate in the olive tree marathon by a vari­ety of goals. Wajdi Crif Damak, an anes­thetist at a clinic in Sfax, ran the half marathon with a banner declar­ing “One Tunisia — One Goal.” He told Olive Oil Times his dream was a united Tunisia with people from across the coun­try pulling together for a brighter future.

Aymen Ghorbel who ran the 10 km race told us he had com­peted in prepa­ra­tion for the forth­com­ing Tunis Marathon and Karim Boughzala told us it was the third time he had par­tic­i­pated in the 10 km run along with friends purely “for the fun of it.”

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Naamen Bouhamed launched the first Marathon of the Olive trees in 2012 and aspired to grow sports tourism in Tunisia with a world-class sport­ing event attended by elite ath­letes and inter­na­tional run­ners.

Despite a new, faster course, the 2019 Marathon strug­gled to attract elite com­peti­tors and inter­na­tional run­ners with fewer par­tic­i­pants in both cat­e­gories than in the 2016 race which wel­comed par­tic­i­pants from the UK, France, Germany, Hungary, Ethiopia and Morocco.

The con­stantly smil­ing and ever-enthu­si­as­tic Bouhamed spoke of the chal­lenges he had faced, namely dif­fi­cul­ties secur­ing visas, bureau­cracy and a lack of sup­port from the author­i­ties.

Bouhamed remained opti­mistic about real­iz­ing his vision of attract­ing more tourists to the his­tor­i­cally-rich city of Sfax (which has applied for UNESCO her­itage status) along with other areas in the south of Tunisia which remain largely unex­plored by tourists who gen­er­ally con­verge in the coastal resorts of Sousse and Hammamet.

Hundreds of young­sters from Sfax and the sur­round­ing areas includ­ing the island of Kerkennah, assem­bled at the city’s ancient Medina for a 3‑km “Fun Run” held the after­noon before the marathon. The fes­tiv­i­ties con­tin­ued into the evening with a dis­play of Sfaxian cul­ture and tra­di­tional live music.

The aptly named Marathon of the Olive Trees takes place in Tunisia’s largest olive-grow­ing region which pro­duces around 80 per­cent of the country’s olive oil.

Our reporter noted that the olive trees were laden with plump fruit which appeared to sup­port an ear­lier pre­dic­tion from The Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture that olive oil pro­duc­tion in the North African coun­try could reach 350,000 tons this season, making Tunisia once again the world’s second-largest pro­ducer.

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In October, Tunisia’s pres­i­den­tial race was won by Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law pro­fes­sor. Saied secured around 72 per­cent of the elec­toral vote while his main oppo­nent Nabil Karoui, a jailed media mogul who faced accu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion and money laun­der­ing, trailed behind with sup­port from just 27 per­cent of the elec­torate.