Deriba Merga defends his title at the Delhi Half Marathon (Airtel Delhi Half Marathon organisers) © Copyright

Merga and Mergia targeting Ethiopian sweep in Delhi Half Marathon - Preview

New Delhi, IndiaThe past champions have arrived as well as some new faces as the annual Airtel Delhi Half Marathon is set to run its sixth edition here on Sunday (21).

About two dozen elite men and an equivalent number of women from around the world are ready to set forth on the green and picturesque Delhi roads for this IAAF Gold Label Road Race and for a slice of the USD 210,000 prize pot.

Merga going for Indian hat-trick

Ethiopian Deriba Merga, after having missed the podium at the Olympic Games in Beijing, posted a 59:15 course record when winning his first ever attempt at Delhi in 2008.  He went on to set World record for 15Km (41:29) en route to his third place finish in the popular Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon the following year.  It was indeed a highly successful year in his career as he took the men’s crown in the Sunfeast World 10K at Bangalore in the summer before triumphantly defending his Delhi title in November.

Merga however had mixed luck in 2010 as his only major victory came at the Bogota Half Marathon in August.  Earlier he finished fourth in the Bangalore 10Km. Now he has a point to prove as he seeks a hat-trick of victories in the Indian capital. 

Merga has a half dozen sub-60 minute clockings to his credit, but he’ll face another 10 who have also dipped under that still-formidable barrier. Apart from compatriot Eshetu Wendimu and Tanzanian Dickson Marwa (both had 59:52), he needs to tackle a battery of fast distance running stars from Kenya. 

Geoffrey Mutai, this year’s RAK Half Marathon victor, will be the top gun from the Kenyan monarchy.  Silas Kipruto, second at Stramilano and fourth at the IAAF World Half-Marathon championships at Nanning last month, is another athlete to challenge the Ethiopian.  Kenyan-born Qatari Abdullah Ahmad Hassan, who emigrated to Qatar in late 2003 and brought his adopted country three World championship bronze medals between 2004 and 2008, has also entered the fray at Delhi to make things tougher.

Women’s race – Mergia the woman to beat?

Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia, who had a party day with his near namesake and men’s victor Merga in the 2008 race, had a disappointing outing last year with a ninth place finish.  Mergia, the World Half Marathon silver medallist in 2008 and Marathon bronze medallist the following year, took top honours in the Sunfeast World 10K at Bangalore but missed out on defending her title in Delhi last year.  With 2009 champion Mary Keitany not here to defend her title, Mergia is looking to regain her position.

Like in the men’s field, the women’s line-up also shows a deep field, with nine sub-1:10 entrants in fray.  Mergia’s compatriot and last year’s runner-up Yimer Wude and Nanning fourth place finisher Feyse Boru are the main athletes expected to push her. 

A host of other competitors from her own country including Mare Dibaba, fourth at the RAK 2010, and Ejegayehu Dibaba, the 2004 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist at Athens and elder sister of double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, are also expected to provide the required challenge to make the race a memorable affair.  The Kenyans are also bringing in Doris Chengeiywo, the 10,000m silver medalist at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games here.

The winners of both races will take home a top prize of USD 25,000 each while the leading Indian finishers will get USD 4000.

As many as 8730 runners have registered for the Half Marathon this year. Additionally nearly 20,000 Delhiites are expected to take part in the 6Km Great Delhi Run.  This apart a 4Km senior citizens’ run attracts about 1200 participants while nearly 200 persons will try their luck in the 2.5Km wheelchair race.

Well over 75 charitable organizations in and around Delhi will benefit from funds raised through pledges during this year.

Constantina Dita, the surprise winner of the Beijing Olympic marathon race, will be the brand ambassador for the Delhi event.

Ram. Murali Krishnan for the IAAF