John Kelai (KEN) in Mumbai (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Mumbai geared up for Marathon festival - PREVIEW

Mumbai, IndiaThe Mumbai Marathon has now become one of the major annual festivals of India’s financial capital.  Each January the people of Mumbai gather to support the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon which is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

With cool weather prevailing over most of this part of the country, course records are expected to go down on the Sunday (16) morning race, which is now running in its eighth year.   The number of elite athletes participating in the race has increased this year, as also has the prize money to USD 325,000.

A highly successful professional venture in Asia, the Mumbai marathon also serves as a platform to support charitable organizations raising funds for various causes.  

MEN - Kelai starts as favourite

Fresh from his Commonwealth Games victory, Kenyan John Kelai looks strong to recapture his title in the men’s race.  Kelai was a back-to-back winner at Mumbai in 2007 and 2008.  He had a third place finish in the 2009 race when his compatriot Kenneth Mungara set a course record 2:11:51.  Kelai spared the entire season last year working towards his race at Delhi and ran just one marathon prior to that at Enschede in April (2:12:17).  The 34-year-old has a PB of 2:09:09 from 2005 set in the same race.

His winning time in Commonwealth Games (2:14:35) was not remarkable.  “It was not entirely my fault.  There were no spectators around and the entire course in Delhi was sealed off due to security concerns which left us (runners) to return poor timings,” commented Kelai on Thursday afternoon. 

“My preparation for Mumbai is good.  The field (this year) is strong and we are all expecting fast times” he further added. 

There are at least a dozen men with timings around 2:10 or faster.  The list also includes Sydney Olympic bronze medallist Tesfaye Tola of Ethiopia, Kenyan Evans Rutto and 2006 Asian Games champion Shami Mubarak Hassan from Qatar.  Unlike Tola, who had his best season a decade ago, both Rutto and Shami on paper should give Kelai a run for his money.  However the absence of defending champion and Kelai’s country-mate Denis Ndiso will bring some comfort to Kelai.

WOMEN – Bizunesh looks to defend title

Bizunesh Urgesa is returning to defend her title.  The Ethiopian, a past medallist in the distance track races at both World Youth and World Junior championships, turned to the road only two years ago and has already tasted success through victories in Istanbul (2009) and Mumbai (2010). 

Defending her title will not be easy for Bizunesh as top competition comes from her own teammates with last year’s runner-up Haille Kebebush and Merima Mohammed racing this year. 

The women’s list includes about a dozen athletes with the calibre to crack the milestone 2:30 mark here and determined to remove Mulu Seboka’s 2:30:03 clocked in 2008 from the race record books.

As usual the hopes for Indian athletes are pinned on the Half Marathon where Commonwealth and Asian Games medallist Kavita Raut vie for top honours in the women’s race.

Ram. Murali Krishnan for the IAAF