Ethiopia’s Birhanu Legese and Kenya’s Cynthia Limo came out on top after thrilling battles over the last kilometre for both the men’s and women’s titles at the 2015 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday (29).
After a leading pack of 10 runners went through 10km in 27:56, five men were still in contention with just 500 metres to go ahead of the finish line in the Indian capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
After an initial surge by Ethiopia’s Mosinet Geremew, Legese overtook his compatriot with barely 100 metres remaining and crossed the line in a personal best of 59:20, with Geremew one second in arrears.
“I am very happy, I enjoyed the course and enjoyed the race. It was very easy for me,” said Legese, whose winning time equalled the third fastest mark in the world this year
Just 21, Legese notched up his second major half marathon victory this year, having also won the Berlin Half Marathon back in March where he set his previous best of 59:45. In Delhi, he was just 14 seconds outside the course record set in 2014 by another Ethiopian, Guye Adola.
Legese first came to international attention as a 19-year-old when he ran 27:34 to finish second at the Taroudant 10km road race in Morocco. His first half marathon came in the German capital eight months ago and he returned to form in Delhi after two relatively lacklustre half marathons in September.
As the fastest Ethiopian on the 2015 world lists, Legese will possibly make his international championship debut at the IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships Cardiff 2016 on 26 March next year, where he potentially could bid to give his country its first individual men's title since Haile Gebrselassie also won on British soil, in nearby Bristol, back in 2001.
Eritrea’s world record-holder and four-time world half marathon champion Zersenay Tadese, now 33, is another man who may well be in Cardiff.
Strength in depth in Delhi
In Delhi, Tadese did not quite have the sheer acceleration of his younger rivals over the final few hundred metres on Sunday but will still have been satisfied with third place in 59:24, his fastest time for more than four years.
The Kenyan pair of Edwin Kiptoo, who made much of the pace from halfway until the final kilometre, and Jonathan Maiyo finished fourth and fifth respectively but were given the same time of 59:26 to provide an exceptional depth of performances at the top end of the men's race. Only two other half marathons in history have had five men run under 59:30.
Limo took the women’s race in 1:08:35 after outsprinting her compatriots Helah Kiprop and Gladys Chesire over the last 200 metres. Limo always looked the most likely to triumph after increasing the tempo at the front of the race with three kilometres to go.
Kiprop, the world marathon silver medallist, snatched second place in the final 30 metres and was given the same time as the winner while Chesire was one second further back to complete an all-Kenyan women’s podium.
After being dropped coming into the last kilometre, Ethiopia’s Genet Yalew finished fourth in 1:08:46.
In eighth place, world steeplechase finalist Lalita Babar showed that she is also a talented runner over longer distances. The Asian steeplechase champion took exactly four minutes off the Indian record with a time of 1:10:52.
Pre-race favourite and world record-holder Florence Kiplagat from Kenya failed in her bid to win in Delhi for a third successive year and had a disappointing day.
The Chicago Marathon winner clearly had last month’s marathon in the Windy City still in her legs and she started to struggle from six kilometres into the race, eventually dropping out at about halfway despite the relatively modest initial pace which saw the seven women in the leading pack pass 10km in 33:43.
More than 13,000 runners took part in the Delhi Half Marathon itself, with an estimated 36,000 participants in all the associated running events in the Indian capital on Sunday.