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Mary Keitany looked to be cruising towards a World record time through 15km of Sunday’s Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. Eventually the Kenyan settled for 1:06:54, falling short of the mark, though she smashed the course record.
The Airtel Delhi Half Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Deriba Merga did not have a Kenyan breathing down his neck as he crossed the finish-line first for the second year in a row in the men’s race. The Ethiopian had his countrymen, Eshetu Wondimu and Tilahun Regassa for company for the better part of the race before breaking away past the 15km mark to coast through to a 59:54 win. Wondimu (1:00:02) came second while Regassa, who set the early pace, faded to fourth behind Kenyan Wilson Kipsang (1:00:04) who was second here last time.
There was no challenge at all to World Half Marathon champion Keitany in the women’s race. Defending champion Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia (1:10.02) finished ninth, unable to match the early pace set by the front-running Kenyan. Ethiopians Wude Ayelew (1:07.58) and Aberu Kebede (1:07.59) who took the second and third spots, tried to put up a fight, but in the end found Keitany too good.
Though the race started in almost ideal weather conditions, the temperatures rose considerably about half an hour after the start, forcing runners to slow the pace.
On the flat course, the early pace was furious as Merga, a little restless right at the start, turning sideways often to place his team-mates and the position of the Kenyans, kept up his relentless front-running act once they broke away from the crowd of runners. The Ethiopians set such a good pace that by the 5km mark, reached in around 13:51, the Kenyans were left well behind.
The leading bunch of Merga, Regassa and Wondimu was inside the course record pace at the 10km mark in 27:43. But with little challenge from the Kenyans and the heat slowly taking its toll, the Ethiopians had to slacken the pace in the race’s second half.
Merga crossed 15km in 41:55, still inside the course record he set last year (59:15), and as he began running away from his team-mates, it was Regassa who showed signs of fatigue. Wondimu, who had drifted behind slightly midway through only to catch up with his countrymen in the lead, tried his best to keep pace with Merga, but in vain.
From around 100 metres to the finish, Merga kept looking back to find whether someone, especially Kipsang, was making a late charge. Memories of that superb surge by Kipsang last year must have come flooding back. This time, though, there were no worries for the 29-year-old Ethiopian. The US$ 25,000 first prize was his without much ado. He tried to find words to express his joy as television reporters surrounded him, but only ended up saying nothing. The 59:54 was his sixth best time, his last year’s effort in Delhi being still his best.
Wondimu looked set to crack one hour for the first time in his career, but eventually settled for 1:00:02, just one second off his best, clocked in Berlin last year. Regassa, still a junior, clocked his third best at 1:00:37 for his fourth pace, overtaken by Kipsang towards the end and thus being deprived of a podium finish.
Kipsang, who looked steady to start with, could not show his customary pace. “At 15km, I felt pain in my toe and I checked my speed. The gap between me and the leader became more than expected and in the end I wasn’t able to cover the lost ground,” the Kenyan said.
Third sub-1:07 for Keitany
Keitany’s domination was total. The Kenyan never allowed anyone to even think about putting up a challenge. Taking off fast, she ran much of her race in the company of Indian male runners and thus kept a steady pace. She was past the 10km mark in a stunning 30:39, raising murmurs about Delhi witnessing a World record. By the 15km mark, at 46:40, she was still very much ahead of World record pace. But then, after that the pace slackened. The course record of Mergia, 1:08:17, was battered beyond recognition, however.
Keitany, who took the top prize of 25,000 dollars, said that she had Lornah Kiplagat’s 1:06:25 World record in mind when she started. “The course was excellent and the weather was not bad. I hope to come back next year,” she said.
Kiplagat’s 2007 effort survived, just as it had in Birmingham 20 days earlier when Keitany clocked 1:06:36, the leading time in the world this season and the second fastest ever. Her 1:06:54 today was the seventh best on the all-time lists. The Kenyan, who dedicated this victory to her one-year-old son, now holds four of the top-10 timings on the all-time lists. She had timed 1:06.48 behind Kiplagat, a former Kenyan now a Dutch, in Udine in 2007.
Though the Ethiopians were outclassed by Keitany, they took the next three places behind her, Mamitu Daska (1:08:07) coming ahead of Kenyan Peninah Arusei for fourth.
Deepchand Saharan won the race among Indian men in 1:04:00, finishing 17th overall. Sukanya Mall was the best Indian woman, coming overall 22nd in 1:20:11.
Over 29,000 competed in various events including a Great Delhi Run in which celebrities took part. The Delhi Chief Minister, Mrs. Sheila Dikshit, gave away the prizes to the winners of the main event. Merga received a golden mace apart from his winning cheque.
By an IAAF correspondent
MEN - 1. Deriba Merga, ETH 59:54 2. Eshetu Wondimu, ETH 1:00:02 3. Wilson Kipsang, KEN 1:00:04 4. Tilahun Regassa, ETH 1:00:37 5. Titus Masai, KEN 1:00:43 6. Dieuodone Disi, RWA 1:01:37 7. Kiplimo Kimutai, KEN 1:01:40 8. Juwawo Wirimai, ZIM 1:01:45 9. Stephen Mokoka, RSA 1:01:47 10. Ezekiel Cherop, KEN 1:01:50
WOMEN - 1. Mary Keitany, KEN 1:06:54 (New Course Record, previous 1:08:17) 2. Wude Ayelew, ETH 1:07:58 3. Aberu Kebede, ETH 1:07:59 4. Mamitu Daska, ETH 1:08:07 5. Peninah Arusei, KEN 1:08:30 6. Mara Ibhrahinova, AZE 1:08:45 7. Teyba Erkesso, ETH 1:09:05 8. Amane Gobena, ETH 1:09:32 9. Aselefech Mergia, ETH 1:10:02 10. Pamela Chepchumba, KEN 1:10:04