Kitwara and Kabuu the favourites at Delhi Half Marathon - Preview

Kitwara and Kabuu the favourites at Delhi Half Marathon - Preview

Provided by IAAF

New Delhi, India – Once again Kenyans are set to dominate the proceedings on Sunday (27) at the seventh edition of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in the Indian capital.

Started in 2005, following the successful conduct of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in the metropolis, the race is returning to its original course this year after having run on a different route in the past three years due to the preparations for the Commonwealth Games which were organised here last year.    

When the course shifted in 2008 the event witnessed a fast 59:15 clocking by Ethiopian Deriba Merga, which equalled Haile Gebrselassie’s world leading time for that year, while Kenyan Wilson Kipsang was just one second behind the victor.  Merga defended his title the next year but his country-mate Lelisa Desisa missed the top spot to Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai in 2010 in a fraction of second (59:39 to 59:38).  So all these runners have made it a habit to clock sub-60 timings to win in Delhi.  

Kitwara leads men’s field

Merga, after entering initially, withdrew a couple of days ago and thus pulled out from the race as last year.  But the arrival of Sammy Kitwara cheered up organisers and fans alike. Kitwara was a bronze medallist in the World Half Marathon championships last year and entered the fray with a career best time of 58:48 which he achieved while finishing second in Philadelphia earlier this year. However Lelisa Desisa, last year’s runner-up here, is aiming to go one up this time and will be a decisive fighter for the top place in the men’s race on Sunday.

To make the contest interesting two other runners, Philemon Limo of Kenya and Dino Sefer of Ethiopia, also arrive with sub-60 clockings.  Limo won in Prague registering 59:30 while the Humarathon victor Sefer posted 59:42 in Vitry-sur-Seine, near Paris.

The men’s field also include some regular competitors on the Delhi course.  Dickson Marwa of Tanzaina, third here in 2007, returns after a year’s absence.  Ethiopian Tilahun Regassa, who was fourth in both 2008 and 2009, make his third appearance while his teammate Tadesse Tola makes a come-back after two years hiatus.  Joining them is another Ethiopian, Shumi Dechasa, who vowed to improve his tenth place finish from last year to a podium position in 2011.  

Geoffrey Kipsang, the Kenyan who went on to win the junior men’s World Cross Country title earlier this year, is making his Delhi debut. Kipsang, with a 1:00:02 win in Lille to his credit this year, is the youngest to enter in the men’s line-up on Sunday.

Kabuu leads loaded field - women’s race

Two time victor and defending champion Aselefech Mergia enters the scene once again.  If she’ll toe the line on Sunday, it will be her record fifth appearance in Delhi.  Of the four earlier attempts, Mergia tasted victory twice (2008 and 2010) and bit the salt on two other occasions (2006 and 2009).  Incidentally the 2009 race was very hot with newly crowned World Half Marathon champion Mary Keitany toppling the field with her fast 1:06:54 run, which remain as the course record here.  Mergia finished ninth that time but rejuvenated to win again next year. Although she had commenced her season with a winning note in the Dubai Marathon in January, she was a non-finisher at the World Championships in August.  In between she had a seventh place finish in the World 10K race at Bangalore. However Mergia regained her form with a noteworthy win in the Bupa 10 miles race in Portsmouth at the end of October with a personal best 52:55 and has a point to prove in Delhi.

Lucy Kabuu Wangui, the Kenyan who won a gold medal in 10,000m at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, is looking tall among the other women on the elite list.  The 27-year-old led the field with 1:07:06 PB she posted when taking the Great North Run in September at South Shields. Although a first-timer to Delhi, Kabuu already had a feel on the course as she was one of the first arrived at the venue.  Prague winner and her compatriot Lydia Cheromei (1:07:33) as well as Ethiopian Aberu Kebede, who lifted the Lisbon half title in 1:08:28, are other notable contenders for the podium finish.  Incidentally Kebede was third here in 2009 and was one place lower last year.

The women’s roster this year reads some great names like Sharon Cherop, current World Marathon bronze medallist from Kenya, and her teammate and Commonwealth 10,000m medallist Doris Changeiywo.

AIMS secretary and race director Hugh Jones expect fast timings on Sunday if the cool climate prevails without any mist.

Khalid Khannouchi, former World record holder in the Marathon, will be the race’s brand ambassador this year.

Ram. Murali Krishnan for the IAAF