Aselefech Mergia on the way to her second victory in the Delhi Half Marathon (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
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Mergia recaptures women’s crown, Mutai foils Ethiopian sweep at Delhi Half Marathon

New Delhi, IndiaEthiopian Aselefech Mergia regained her title while Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai took a narrow victory in the men’s race at the 6th edition of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday (21).

The Airtel Delhi Half Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Mergia ran in Delhi for the first time in 2006 and finished seventh. However she carved her name as a champion two years later with a time of 1:08:17 just ahead of countrywoman Genet Getanah at the post.  But she had a disappointing outing last year when she clocked 1:10:02 for the ninth place as she could not withstand the pace set by Kenyan Mary Keitany of Kenya.

Returning to retake her lost glory, Mergia ran a tactical race from the gun.  Keeping in mind the lessons of last year she allowed a cluster of 12 athletes composed from her home country and Kenya to run together. The group passed the 7.5 Km mark in 24:03 and half-way mark in 33:30.  Doris Changeiywo of Kenya, the 10,000m silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games here last month who was making her Half Marathon debut, started to slow afterwards along with Ethiopian Belaynesh Jemama.

Merima Mohammed (18), who clocked a PB of 2:23:06 in the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon less than two months ago, along with her Ethiopian colleague and this year’s Xiamen Marathon winner Atsede Bayisa, did the front running and led the group through 15 Km mark in 48:45.

With last year’s runner-up Yimer Wude hanging on their shoulders the Ethiopian women increased their pace and applied pressure on the Kenyan.

As the final phase of the race approached, Mergia unleashed her sprint and went on to break the tape in 1:08:35 with Merima just one second behind. Wude was also credited with 1:08:36 and finished third, one place down from last year.

“It was a great race.  I really enjoyed it,” Mergia said. “Before the race I was not sure of a podium finish, but it (the win) made me happy as I struggled in the last four months with injury.”

Mutai outkicks Ethiopians

Defending champion Deriba Merga pulled out at the eleventh hour as he yet to bounce back from injury and poor form which forced him into early departures from marathons in Chicago and Chunchon last month.

Kenyan Mutai, winner of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon earlier this year, started as the favourite.  A group of 15 were in the lead group when the race set off on a cool early winter morning.  Performing artists playing the popular Bangra dance for the eloquent Punjabi music and cheerleaders making excellent moves for blaring western music greeted the runners as they are passed through the picturesque roads of the Indian capital.   The route includes the landmark India Gate and Rashtrapathi Bhavan on the out-and-back course on Rajpath.  

Although Mutai was in the bunch, it was his teammate Silas Kipruto who played the lead role. The tall and lanky Kenyan, second at the popular Stramilano race in Milan and fourth at this year’s IAAF World Half Marathon championship in Nanning, started to pull along with Mutai and Ethiopians Lelisa Desisa and Yacob Yarso after 6 kilometres. They passed the 10 Km mark in 27:57 with the second group less than 10 seconds behind.

Things became tougher when the foursome entered Prithviraj Road in the 14th kilometre and began an uphill climb.  Kipruto slowed his pace, as did Mutai and others.   Feyisa Lelisa, the current Xiamen Marathon men’s victor from Ethiopia, and RAK third placer Titus Masai of Kenya were just 50m away from the leaders.

The runners covered 15 Km in 42:25 and the sub-60 timing looked unrealistic at this stage considering the further climb to the finish.  However one should remember that these runners originate from terrains which are common with ups and downs.   

With 300 metres to go Mutai started to charge and Desisa, the Abu Dhabi third placer, challenged him as the duo started running neck-and-neck.

But the experienced Mutai’s kick was decisive as he took the win in 59:38, five seconds faster than his RAK effort, but shy of the 59:15 course record set by Merga in 2008.  In the close finish, Desisa was just 0.46 seconds (59:39) behind for second while his countryman Yarso clocked 1:00:07 for third.  A fully spent Kipruto completed the race fourth.

“I could have run under 59 minutes had there been anyone to push me,” said Mutai. “Merga is a great runner and we missed him here.  I would definitely come back next year to try for the course record.”

“We were trying for an Ethiopian sweep,” said Desisa. “It was very close.”

The winners took home USD 25,000 awarded by sport loving Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit.  Several distinguished persons from the corporate and cinema world made their presence at the Sunday morning event.  Among the celebrities were Bollywood actress Gul Panag who took part in the race while fitness conscious Rahul Bose, Maria Goretti, Arshad Warsi and ‘Face of the Event’ Bipasha Basu were there to support to runners.

Akki and Babar, the top Indians

Irappa Akki, an Army athlete who trains at high altitude Coonoor in Southern India, finished first among Indian men while Lalita Babar, who works in Railways, had the honour among women.  Both Akki and Babar finished 19th overall in their respective categories.   They each won USD 4,000 each for their efforts.

Kavita Raut, the bronze medalist at 10,000m at last month’s Commonwealth Games, pulled out at due to her participation at Asian Games at Guangzhou, China.  The athletics events at the Asian Games began today.

Ram. Murali Krishnan for the IAAF

Leading Results:

MEN: 1. Geoffrey Mutai KEN 59:38,  2. Lelisa Desisa ETH 59:39,  3. Yacob Yarso ETH 60:07,  4. Silas Kipruto KEN 60:21,  5. Feyisa Lelisa ETH 60:33,  6. Titus Masai KEN 60:38,  7. Leonard Langat KEN 60:51,  8. Ayele Wolde Giorgis ETH 60:51,  9. Peter Kirui KEN 61:10,  10. Shumi Dechase ETH 61:38, 11. Erick Ndiema KEN 61:41, 12. Dennis Ndiso KEN 62:12, 13. Joel Kimurur KEN 62:21, 14. Chimsa Deressa ETH 62:22, 15. Dereje Mengesha ETH 62:25, 16. Marcos Geneti ETH 63:06, 17. Khalid E Boumlili MOL 64:06, 18. Antony Ford GBR 64:18, 19. Irappa D Akki IND 64:33, 20. Santosh Kumar IND 64:35.

WOMEN: 1. Aselefech Mergia ETH 68:35, 2. Merima Mohammed ETH 68:36, 3. Yimer Wude ETH 68:36, 4. Aberu Kebede ETH 68:39, 5. Atsede Baysa ETH 68:43, 6. Mestawet Tufa ETH 68:48, 7. Feyse Boru ETH 68:50, 8. Sharon Cherop KEN 68:51, 9. Lydia Cheromei KEN 68:55, 10. Doris Chengeywo KEN 70:40, 11. Belaynesh Jemama ETH 72:17, 12. Sosena Gezaw ETH 73:09, 13. Askale Tafa ETH 73:41, 14. Hellen Jemutai KEN 73:44, 15. Mirriam Makeywa KEN 73:58, 16. Hilalia Johanes NAM 74:19, 17. Anne Kingori KEN 75:20, 18. Sveitlana Kouhan BLR 76:01, 19. Lalita Babar IND 78:05, 20. Cathy Mutwa KEN 78:51.