NEW DELHI, Oct 21 (PTI): Debutant Tsehay Gemechu smashed the course record in the women’s event while Andamalak Belihu overcame stiff competition in the men’s elite field as the Ethiopian duo raced to top honours at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon here on Sunday.
It was maiden victory at the course for both the winners at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, which saw over 34,000 participants turn up for an array of race events.
The 20-year-old Gemechu, running her maiden half marathon, clocked 1:06:50sec, four seconds better than the earlier women’s course record of 1:06:54sec, which had been in the name of Kenya’s Mary Keitany since 2009.
“I wasn’t expecting to win. It was a trial for me as this is the first time I ran a half marathon. I am delighted that I won against such famous athlete,” a delighted Gemechu said after the race.
Current women’s half marathon world record holder, Joyciline Jepkosgei, finished with a silver medal after completing the race at 1:06:56sec.
“I am happy for the second spot as I was unsure if I would finish on the podium at all. I didn’t prepare for this race well. I have recently changed my programme. My programme is focussed on the marathon,” Joyciline said.
Zeineba Yimer of Ethiopia grabbed the last spot on the podium with a time of 1:06:59sec.
Both Gemechu and Belihu pocketed the identical winners’ cheque of USD 27,000. Gemechu will take home an additional USD 10,000 for setting a new course record.
Tirunesh Dibaba, the greatest ever distance runner woman in the world with three Olympic, five World Championship gold medals in 5000m and 10,000m, had a forgettable race. Fatigue caught up with her as she strayed from the pack from the beginning and finished sixth.
In the men’s elite category, Belihu, who finished second last year, improved on his personal best, clocking 59:18 seconds. However, he was unable to break the course record which still stands in the name of Ethiopia’s Guye Adola, set in 2014.
Walelegn clinched the silver ending the race with a time of 59:22 seconds. While Kenya’s Daniel Kipchumba grabbed the third spot clocking 59:48 seconds.
The trio of Belihu, Walelegn and Kipchumba led the pack from the start of the race with the Ethiopian duo soon racing ahead. It was a neck-to-neck battle between the two with the 19-year-old claiming victory at the finish line.
“I tried to push for the course record but it was difficult. I was second the last time so this time I prepared more. I tried to push the pace setter as well but it is difficult to run alone, away from everyone,” Belihu said.
The Ethiopian ran away with four of the top positions, while Kenyans grabbed the remaining two positions.
Among the Indians, Abhishek Pal won the the men’s race clocking 1:4:14 seconds.
The 22-year-old Maharashtra runner Avinash Sable was second in 1:04:14sec as he clinched the silver, while Asian marathon champion Gopi T claimed the third spot on the podium finishing at 1:04:15sec.
Defending champion Nitendra Singh, who had created the course record last time, time finished 12th among the Indians at 1:06:37sec.
Sanjivani Jadhav was the best Indian in the women’s elite field finishing with a time of 1:13:58sec.
“I was second here two years ago, I am gad that I have bettered my performance and won the gold this time,” Sanjivani said.
Parul Chaudhary, who finished third in the last edition did one better, secured the second spot on the podium clocking 1:14:01sec.
“I am a bit disheartened as I didn’t perform as well as my preparation. I wanted to better my timing from last time but I wasn’t able to do so,” Parul said.
Monika Athare, who had taken the top honours in the 2016 edition, was unable to replicate the same performance this year and had to be content with the bronze clocking 1:16:55sec.
The men’s and women’s winners among the Indians pocketed an identical Rs four lakh each while the second and third place finishers were richer by Rs three lakh and Rs two lakh each.