Ethiopian Atsedu Tsegaye, who ran a world leading 58:47 at Prague this season, will be the top contender in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday. He will be expected to face a stiff challenge from compatriot and defending champion Lelisa Desisa as both of them have World record ambitions.
Celebrating its eighth edition, the Airtel Delhi Half-Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
If the weather is cool on Sunday (30) morning then the flat Delhi course can certainly help the Ethiopians to accomplish what they have in mind. Tsegaye, who is not yet 21, clocked his personal best 58:47 while winning under windy conditions in Prague. Desisa, almost two years older, clocked 59:30 for his triumph at Delhi last year.
Six Kenyans and Dickson Marwa of Tanzania, with sub-60:00 career best clockings, also figure prominently on the provisional start lists. Leading the Kenyan assault will be Ezekiel Chebii, winner at Lille with a notable 59:05 and his colleague Gilbert Masai who finished fourth behind Chebii with 59:57.
"I am competing with these Ethiopians for the first time," Chebii said. "They are very tough competitors and will run a strong race. Since this is my first visit to India, I want to do well, I’m confident and in good shape."
Mergia to make sixth start in Delhi
Ethiopian women are strong in distance running, especially in road races, and they have a 3-3 record in winning the Delhi titles against the Kenyans in the past years after Russian Irina Timofeyeva took the inaugural edition in 2005.
Aselefech Mergia, the World Half Marathon silver medallist in 2008, is a very experienced runner on Delhi roads. She had two wins here in 2008 and 2010. She could have achieved a hat-trick until World record holder Mary Keitany of Kenya pushed her to ninth place with a fast pacing in 2009. Keitany set a course record of 1:06:54 that year. Mergia also had a seventh place finish in Delhi during her first visit in 2006 then came again last year for yet another podium finish when she posted a PB of 1:07:21 for third.
Two other sub-1:08:00 runners from Ethiopia join Mergia to contest for the top spot. Belaynesh Oljira recorded 1:07:27 when she finished fourth last year and Yimer Wude also registered her PB of 1:07:58 here in 2009 when finishing runner-up behind Keitany. Wude, the bronze medallist in the 10,000m at the 2009 World Championships, also made the Delhi podium with her third place in 2010.
From the Kenyan side, Helah Kiprop and Caroline Kilel start favourites to make things difficult for the Ethiopians. Kiprop, who won the TCS World 10Km at Bangalore earlier this summer, went on to win the Vattenfall Berlin Half Marathon with a best of 1:08:26. Kilel, last year’s Boston Marathon winner, was fourth in the World Half Marathon Championships in 2009 and is credited with a PB of 1:08:16 from that year.
Helalia Johannes from Namibia, 12th in the Olympic Marathon at London, may pull a surprise and finish between the top guns in ideal conditions.
Rudisha – the Ambassador
Although there are interesting dual on the cards for Sunday from both Ethiopians and Kenyans, at least one person who is not running the race is expected to draw more attention from the fans.
David Rudisha, the Kenyan who delivered a high octane performance in the 800m with his 1:40.91 World record at the London Olympics, will be the brand ambassador for this year’s race. Incidentally Rudisha has run under 1:45 no less than 45 times whereas Sriram Singh’s 1:45.77 from the Montreal Olympics of 1976 still stands as the national mark for 800m in India!
The winners in both men and women races will receive USD 25,000 each from the prize pot of $ 210,000 on Sunday. A world record makes the winner’s purse "double" and the organisers are also planning to give incentives for course records as well.