New Delhi: Ethiopia’s current woman world athlete of the year Almaz Ayana clinched gold while compatriot Berhanu Legese won the men’s event in the Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday as thousands of Delhiites turned up despite concerns of air pollution. Ayana, who set the 10,000m world record while winning the gold in Rio Olympics, transferred her stunning form on track to road race as she clocked one hour, seven minutes and 11 seconds to emerge champion in her maiden half marathon race.
Ethiopians ran away with all three top positions as Ayana’s compatriots Ababel Yeshaneh and Netsanet Gudeta were second and third in the elite women’s race, clocking 1:07:19 and 1:07:24 respectively to cover the 21.097km distance. Defending champion Worknesh Degefa was fifth in 1:08:09.
In the men’s elite race, 2015 winner Legese bagged the gold in 59 minutes and 46 seconds while another Ethiopian Anadamlak Belihu was second in 59:51. Leonard Korir of United States was third in 59:52. Reiging world marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya finished sixth in 1:00.04. Ayana and Legese, however, could not break the course records of 1:06:54 and 59:06 respectively, which still stand in the names of Mary Keitany (2009) of Kenya and Guye Adola (2014) of Ethiopia.
Both Ayana and Legese pocketed identical USD 27,000 as winners’ prize money. Ayana, who will turn 26 on Tuesday, was running in her debut half marathon though it was the second road race of her career (after 10km race in Angola in 2010).
“I was a bit nervous and confused, not knowing what to do, whether to follow other runners and to take the lead. The course was very good but the chilly weather created some problem,” she said after the race. “Also, when the pacesetter dropped out, I was a bit confused and could not find the way. The language issue (she can’t speak English) also created problems. I could have run a faster time,” she added.
Basically a track runner, Ayana, who also won a 10,000m gold in the London World Championships in August, said he may consider coming back to Delhi in future. “It is not easy to run road races and I would prefer to run on tracks. But I think I will come back here,” she added. For Legese, the course in Delhi was not new for him as he had won two years back also.
“I knew the course as I was here in 2015, and so it helps. Initially, I thought of running ahead of the pack after 15km but I did that after the 20km mark,” he said, adding that he will come back next year. Among the Indian women, L Suriya bagged the gold in a course record (for Indians) time of 1:10:31 while veteran long distance runner Sudha Singh and Parul Choudhary were second and third in 1:11:30 and 1:13:09 respectively.
Nitendra Singh Rawat won Indian men’s race, clocking a new course record time of 1:03:53 in a dramatic photo finish with G Lakshmanan who also clocked the same 1:03:53 but got the silver when the timing was broken down to decimal seconds. It was a sprint race towards the finish line but ultimately Rawat pipped Lakshmanan to the post. In fact, in the tussle for the top position, Lakshmanan fell at the finish and had some bruises on his shoulder. 21-year-old Maharashtra runner Avinash Sable was third in 1:03:58 as he clinched a medal in his debut half marathon. He won the third place in a photo finish with Durga Bahadur who also clocked 1:03:58 but had to be content with fourth place.
In fact, all the top three Indian men finishers — and even fourth — bettered the earlier course record of 1:04.00. The men’s and women’s winners among the Indians pocketed an identical Rs 3 lakh each while the second and third place finishers will be richer by Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 1.75 lakh each.
Besides that, the three men’s podium finishers shared Rs 2 lakh among themselves for bettering the course record. Suriya, the sister of Lakshmanan, got an additional Rs 2 lakh for bettering the course record. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of runners braved the chilly weather — around 15 degree Celcius when the men’s elite race started at 6:40am — and turned out on Delhi roads despite the health warnings just a few days ago.
Besides participating in the elite category, runners also took part in four categories of Great Delhi Run, Timed 10K Run, Senior Citizens Run and Champions with Disability Run. The pollution level in the city though has got better after the early morning rain yesterday.
Before the race, the organisers have claimed that around 35,000 runners will take part in it. Around 30,000 had taken part in the race in 2015, while 34,000 took part last year, according to race organisers, Procam International. The Delhi Half Marathon, one of the top half marathons in the world, has been mired in controversy after the Indian Medical Association called for its cancellation owing to the smog in the national capital. (PTI)