The Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday (15) lived up to its promise. Astonishingly deep fields had been assembled for both the men’s and women’s races and it resulted in Atsedu Tsegay taking three seconds off the course record.
Meanwhile, a close women’s race saw 2010 world half-marathon champion Florence Kiplagat triumph in 1:08:00 as just 10 seconds separated the three Kenyan athletes who filled the podium places.
Tsegay’s Ethiopian compatriot Deriba Merga set the previous course record of 59:15 in 2008, ten weeks after finishing fourth in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics. But on a mild morning on the streets of Delhi, Tsegay won a competitive men’s race in 59:12 to come within half a minute of the 58:47 national record he set in Prague last year.
When Tsegay achieved his 2012 world-leading mark in the Czech capital, it was something of a surprise as he had never before broken 61 minutes for the distance. Since then his form had dwindled slightly due to an ankle injury, but his victory in Delhi showed that he is no flash in the pan.
A large group of 12 athletes went through the 5km mark in 14:09, but only five men remained at the front by the half-way mark. Geoffrey Kipsang, the 2011 world junior cross-country champion, led the group with comprised Tsegay, 2010 world half-marathon champion Wilson Kiprop, African 10,000m champion Kenneth Kipkemoi and Kenya’s World Championships marathon representative Nicholas Kipkemboi.
With less than 7km remaining, the same five athletes were out in front, but as Tsegay upped the pace in the closing stages, the Kenyan quartet was unable to respond.
Tsegay crossed the line in 59:12 and he was joined 18 seconds later by Kipsang. Kiprop (59:49) and Kipkemoi (59:55) also dipped under the one-hour barrier, while Kipkemboi faded to fifth in 1:00:24.
“I’m happy to win as I didn’t run for nearly a year because of an ankle injury,” said Tsegay. “This is only my second race since the injury and I am happy with my performance.
“I paced myself until 12km, then at 15km I realised that I had a huge lead and would win,” he added. “The climate was extremely cold so initially it was a little difficult to adjust to the conditions.”
In total, 11 men finished in less than 62 minutes, including defending champion Edwin Kipyego who placed eighth in 1:01:21.
Kiplagat leaves it late
Two-time Berlin Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat has won all three of her races this autumn so was keen to maintain that streak in Delhi.
One of her only disappointments this year came at the RAK Half Marathon, where she finished fifth behind the likes of world leader Lucy Kabuu and world half-marathon champion Meseret Hailu, both of whom were also on the start line in the Indian capital.
For Kiplagat, the 2009 world cross-country champion, this was a race for redemption against one of the toughest fields she had ever faced.
There were few significant moves in the race until the half-way mark. Alice Kimutai led a pack of 11 women through 5km in a modest 17:09, which ruled out any serious attempt at breaking Mary Keitany’s course record of 1:06:54. But by half way the group had dropped to eight athletes with Kabuu and two-time world cross-country champion Emily Chebet at the front.
With little more than 20 minutes left to go, just four women remained in contention – Kiplagat, Kabuu, Hailu and world 10,000m silver medallist Gladys Cherono. Hailu was the first to fade as it soon became clear that there would be a Kenyan sweep.
Kiplagat, the Kenyan 10,000m record-holder, put to use the sprint finish that has helped her win so many big races in the past and crossed the line in 1:08:00. Cherono followed three seconds later, while Kabuu – winner of this race in 2011 – had to be content with third place in 1:08:10.
Hailu finished fourth in 1:09:05, 16 seconds ahead of defending champion Wude Ayalew with Chebet a further one second in arrears.
Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Ejigu, a track specialist who was making her half-marathon debut, placed 11th in 1:12:02.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF