New Delhi: Two time winners from Ethiopia, Deriba Merga and Aselefech Megia will return to lay stake to the men’s and women’s titles respectively in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, the seventh edition of the world’s most prestigious half marathon, which will be flagged off from the iconic Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the capital city on November 27, 2011.
According to Ian Ladbrooke, a consultant for the elite athlete field and Tim Hutchings, a renowned expert commentator on long distance events, the men’s and women’s field that will take the starter’s flag promises to be the best and fastest yet, with a strong likelihood of new course records being set.
Deriba Merga, ranked No. 4 in the world and winner of titles here in 2008 and 2009, also holds the course record of 59.15 minutes, clocked in 2008, which, incidentally, is his personal best in this distance. He leads a powerful field of fellow Ethiopians, Kenyans, Tanzanians and Eritreans, of which nine have personal bests of sub-60.
Merga is in fine form this year, having beaten a world class field to win the Ras Al-Khaima half marathon in February in a fast time of 59.25. He will be well supported by team mates Tilahun Regassa and Lelisa Desisa, who finished runner-up last year, losing out by a fraction to Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai.
In the absence of Mutai, The Kenyan challenge will be spearheaded by the young and extremely talented Sammy Kitwara, the fastest athlete in the men’s field with a personal best of 58.48, set in September this year. The other strong Kenyans in the field include Stephen Kibiwott, with a personal best of 59.37, Philemon Limo, Mark Kiptoo and Emmanuel Bett.
Aselefech Mergia, the defending champion, who won her first title here in 2008, will be returning to lead another strong women’s field, which includes fellow Ethiopians Merima Mohammed, runner-up last year and former World half marathon silver medalist Aberu Kebede.
The Kenyan challenge will be led by Lucy Wangui Kabuu, who is the fastest in the field this year with a personal best of 67.06 and will be backed up strongly by Lydia Cheromei, Doris Changeywo and the young Valentine Kipketer. Hungarian champion Aniko Kalovic and Olga Dubrovskaya of Belarus will be looking to make a dent in the Ethiopian and Kenyan domination.
Progression of winning times: The Delhi Half Marathon has seen a steady progression in the winning times of the men and women, with Kenyan Philip Rugut winning the first edition in 2005 in a timing of 61.54 minutes and Geoffrey Mutai stopping the clock at 59.38 in 2010. In between was Merga’s super fast timing of 59.15 set in 2008, which remains the course record.
Among the women, the first edition saw Russia’s Irina Timofeyeca winning in 70.35, while Aselefech Mergia breasted the tape in 68. 35 in 2010. The course record for the women stands in the name of Kenyan Mary Keitany, who clocked an incredible 66.54 while winning in 2009.