Running in ideal conditions Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa went one up from his last year’s effort while pre-race favourite Lucy Kabuu Wangui of Kenya won in her first appearance in the seventh edition of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (27).
In the men's race, Desisa edged Kenyan Geoffrey Kipsang by one second in 59:30 while Kabuu clocked 1:07:04 to take the women's victory, personal bests for both.
A large group of twenty athletes including last year’s runner-up Desisa and Kenyan Sammy Kitwara, the fastest in the field at 58:48 from his second place finish at the ING Philadelphia Half Marathon in September, were together in the initial stages of the race on a cool morning with 16 degree Celsius. Pacemaker Milton Rotich led the runners for the first half of the race.
When the runners went past the Jaipur House on Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, Rotich allowed the others to take over, with 15 remaining on the helm. Coming into the iconic India Gate and running towards the Rashtrapathi Bhavan presidential palace on the Raj Path, the group began to split. Philemon Limo, the Kenyan who won in Prague with a personal best 59:30, along with Humarathon victor Dino Sefir were among the leaders when the group of six went past the 10k mark in just over 28 minutes on Sansad Marg, the road to Indian Parliament.
On the return journey towards India Gate, both Limo and Sefir slowed down and were about 50 metres behind the four-member core group. Kitwara, still among the leaders, kept hope alive for an event record, as the race returned to its original course after three years. With just three kilometres to the finish, the foursome started to run in single file with Kitwara beginning to trail at this stage.
At the 20k point, the fight for the top spot became decisive with Desisa and Geoffrey Kipsang running shoulder-to-shoulder. Mike Kigen was 13 seconds behind the duo and Kitwara a little further.
Both Desisa and Kipsang started to sprint as they turned the straight 100 metres towards the finish at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. At the end Desisa became the second Ethiopian to win the men’s title at Delhi after the ‘double-take’ by his country-mate Deriba Merga in 2008 and 2009. Although Desisa could not break the course record this time, he had the satisfaction of improving his personal best timing at this distance. His 59:30 winning time was the third fastest ever in Delhi. Kipsang, the current junior men’s World Cross Country champion, was just a fraction of a second behind the winner. The third placed Mike Kigen of Kenya also clocked another sub-60 time to make the race memorable.
Pre-race favourite and last year’s World Half Marathon bronze medallist Sammy Kitwara finished fourth in 1:00:09. Five out of top ten finishers registered personal best timings.
“This year’s race is good. I am a bit disappointed as I could not post a course record. I had discomfort due to cold, otherwise I could have posted a sub-58 mark,” Desisa said.
Kabuu take maiden Delhi title - Women’s race
In her fifth Delhi appearance, defending champion and two-time winner Aselefech Mergia led the women’s contest for the major part of the race. But she had to give up her hopes for a record third victory in the waning moments of the race as the pace was very hot.
The Kenyan pair of Lucy Kabuu and Sharon Cherop made things difficult for Mergia. The three were together from the outset with another Ethiopian, Belaynesh Oljira, hanging on their shoulder. However experience helped Kabuu. The former Commonwealth Games gold medallist in the 10,000m entered the fray with a fast 1:07:06 clocking from her Great North Run victory this year. Cherop, who finished eighth at Delhi last year, went on to win World bronze in the Marathon at Daegu this year.
Like in the men’s race a final sprint showdown was expected in the women’s event too and the duo did not disappoint the fans in that. Although it was as close as in the men’s, Kabuu and Cherop were separated by just four seconds (1:07:04 to 1:07:08), while Mergia clocked 1:07:21 for third place—all personal best timings—as was also the fourth placed Oljira’s 1:07:27.
“The support showed by my colleague Cherop was great which helped me to post a PB and I am expecting to go better when invited again to run here in next year,” Kabuu said.
Both Desisa and Kabuu went home with a winner’s cheque of USD 25,000 from the total prize pool of 2$10,000. There was a separate prize money for the top-finishers among the Indians. Suresh Kumar (20th overall) and Lalita Babar (19th overall) were top male and female among the Indians and become richer by USD 4000 for their effort.
As usual the race witnessed the participation of a large number of enthusiasts, both on competitive mood as well as fun runners, in various categories. A host of dignitaries led by Indian sports minister Ajay Makken and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit were present during the event and graced the occasion. India's Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Bipasha Basu, the face of the event, were also among the celebrities who attended the event.
Ram. Murali Krishnan for the IAAF
1. Lelisa Desisa ETH 59:30 PB
2. Geoffrey Kipsang KEN 59:31 PB
3. Mike Kigen KEN 59:58 PB
4. Sammy Kitwara KEN 1:00:09
5. Philemon Limo KEN 1:00:32
6. Dino Sefer ETH 1:00:35
7. Feyisa Lilesa ETH 1:00:50
8. Tilahun Regassa ETH 1:00:59
9. Ezekiel Cherop KEN 1:01:08 PB
10. Milton Rotich KEN 1:01:12 PB
11. Victor Kipchirchir KEN 1:01:21 PB
12. Emmanuel Bett KEN 1:02:10 PB
13. Mark Kiptoo KEN 1:02:11
14. Shadrack Kemboi KEN 1:02:13
15. Shumi Dechasa ETH 1:03:10
16. Stephen Kibiwott KEN 1:03:14
17. Abdellah Falil MAR 1:03:29
18. Dickson Marwa TAN 1:03:31
19. Maina Charles Wachira KEN 1:04:03
20. Suresh Kumar IND 1:04:08 PB
Splits (at 5k, 10k, 13k, 15k, 20k)
Desisa 14:14, 28:28, 37:08, 42:26, 56:38
Kipsang 14:13, 28:28, 37:08, 42:26, 56:38
Kigen 14:13, 28:28, 37:08, 42:26, 56:51
1. Lucy Wangui Kabuu KEN 1:07:04 PB
2. Sharon Cherop KEN 1:07:08 PB
3. Aselefech Mergia ETH 1:07:21 PB
4. Belaynesh Oljira ETH 1:07:27 PB
5. Lydia Cheromei KEN 1:08:50
6. Mare Dibaba ETH 1:08:58
7. Valentine Kipketer KEN 1:09:06
8. Aberu Kebede ETH 1:09:07
9. Bezunesh Bekele ETH 1:09:08
10. Merima Mohammed ETH 1:10:46
11. Doris Chengeiywo KEN 1:11:18
12. Peninah Kigen KEN 1:11:25
13. Mary Naali TAN 1:12:38
14. Aheza Kiros ETH 1:12:51
15. Irvette Van Blerk RSA 1:14:24
16. Olga Kotovska UKR 1:15:37
17. Aniko Kalovics HUN 1:16:26
18. Olga Dubrovskaya BLR 1:16:56
19. Lalita Babar IND 1:17:38
20. Kiran Tiwari IND 1:17:59
Splits (at 5k, 10k, 13k, 15k, 20k)
Kabuu 15:42, 31:31, 41:39, 47:48, 63:43
Cherop 15:41, 31:31, 41:40, 47:49, 63:44
Mergia 15:42, 31:32, 41:40, 47:49, 64:01