Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge made a triumphant return to racing barely three months after taking the Olympic marathon title when he won the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Sunday (20), clocking 59:44.
Kipchoge accelerated away from his last remaining challenger, Ethiopia’s Yigrem Demelash, with one kilometre to go with the 2012 world junior 10,000m champion finishing second, four seconds back.
The contest for the 12th edition of India’s leading half marathon race – and the US$27,000 first prize – was quickly reduced to three contenders after just five kilometres, with Kipchoge and Demelash being accompanied by Kenya’s Augustine Choge.
Pacemakers John Langat and Ronald Kirui, both from Kenya, took the trio through the first 10km in 28:33, provoking hopes that with a slight quickening of pace in the second half of the race the course record of 59:06, set by Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in 2014, might fall.
However, 12 kilometres was reached in 34:16 as the pacemakers started to struggle. The leading trio were left out on their own and it was becoming clear that Adola’s record was likely to survive for another year.
Just after 17 kilometres, Choge was unable to stay with his two rivals and started to slip back while Kipchoge continued to force the pace.
In the final kilometre, Kipchoge found another gear but was clearly worried by Demelash's potential sprint finish, repeatedly glancing back before crossing the line.
However, the experienced Kipchoge had planned his decisive move to perfection and completed a victorious return to Delhi after taking the 2010 Commonwealth Games 5000m silver medal in the same city six years ago.
“The running conditions were good, my training was good and with the right guidance from my coach (1992 Olympic steeplechase silver medallist Patrick Sang), I was able to win the race," said Kipchoge. "Along the route the crowd was also cheering us and that helped to further motivate us."
Demelash, 22, who was fourth in the Olympic 10,000m in August, held on for second with a personal best of 59:48 with Choge also improving his personal best when finishing third in 1:00:01.
Degefa takes women's title, Jepchirchir fades to fifth
Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa caused a slight surprise when she took the women’s title in 1:07:42.
Despite Degefa being the fastest woman in the field, all eyes were on world half marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir, who had won her previous four outings over the distance this year.
However, Delhi proved to be one race too many for the Kenyan who had said before the race that she had been suffering from blisters on her feet and a cold in the preceding weeks.
Six runners, led by Degefa with her compatriot Ababel Yeshaneh and Jepchirchir running directly behind her, were still in contention up to 18 kilometres before Degefa pushed hard and split up the pack.
No one could stay with her and she crossed the line 10 seconds in front of Yeshaneh. The two Ethiopians were followed home by three Kenyans with Helah Kiprop taking third in 1:08:11, Gladys Chesir fourth in 1:08:23 and the tiring Jepchirchir fifth in 1:08:28.
Organisers for the IAAF
1 Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 59:44
2 Yigrem Demelash (ETH) 59:48
3 Augustine Choge (KEN) 1:00:01
4 Ronald Kirui (KEN) 1:01:43
5 Sibusiso Nzima (RSA) 1:01:44
6 Ezekiel Chepkorom (UGA) 1:01:46
7 Alphonce Felix Sambu (TAN) 1:01:59
8 Elias Kibret (ETH) 1:02:00
9 Jackson Kiprop (UGA) 1:02:46
10 G Lakshmanan (IND) 1:04:37
1 Worknesh Degefa (ETH) 1:07:42
2 Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH) 1:07:52
3 Helah Kiprop (KEN) 1:08:11
4 Gladys Chesir (KEN) 1:08:23
5 Peres Jepchirchir (KEN) 1:08:28
6 Mary Wacera (KEN) 1:09:06
7 Gelete Burka (ETH) 1:09:32
8 Netsanet Gudeta (ETH) 1:10:05
9 Rose Chelimo (BRN) 1:10:17
10 Afera Godfay (ETH) 1:13:49