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Delhi gears up for World Half Marathon

October 02, 2004 17:17 IST

After Anju Bobby George put India on the world athletics map last year by winning a bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships in Paris, India will once again come under international spotlight when New Delhi hosts the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in New Delhi on Sunday.

Two new individual champions will be crowned in this 13th edition of the prestigious championships as the capital becomes the first Asian city to hold the event with a record number of 64 countries taking part.

With women's marathon world record holder and defending champion Paula Radcliffe of Britain and Kenyan Martin Kel, who won the men's race in last year's championships held in Portugal absent, the focus will be on veteran Irish star Sonia O'Sullivan and China's Sun Yingjee, who finished sixth in the 10,000 metres at the Athens Olympics.

Amid all these big names, the Indians would be aiming to put up a decent show on home turf led by 19-year-old Mukesh Yadav.

The Allahabadi is a fine road-runner and has a personal best of 1:08.30 in half marathon clocked in the J R D Tata Half Marathon in July this year.

Other runners in the Indian men's team are Mohan Chandra Kapri, P Nagender Rao, Raj Kumar, Sandeep Kumar, R B Subba and Ajit Singh.

In the women's section, Pushpa Devi of Delhi will lead the challenge. Pushpa ran in the last World Championship where she clocked her personal best of 1:22:09.

Pashotleima Devi, Sarita Marwade, Geeta Rani, Sarabjit Kaur and Jayanti Negi make up the rest of the women's team.

It will be the first time in many years that a high profile event is being staged here after the Asian Games in 1982. It will also be the first of many international events that the city is bidding for, including the World Athletic Championships, before hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

The team winners in the last edition were Tanzania (men) and Russia (women) but the Kenyans, seven times men's champion and four times women's winners, would be looking to set the record straight tomorrow in the Championships which will be contested on a two-loop course beginning and finishing at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Though the best in the business would be absent, some of the other top class endurance runners will scorch the course through Raj Path for the big purse with the majestic India Gate, Delhi Golf Club and Delhi High Court providing the backdrop.

The individual winners will take home USD 30,000 while the purse reduces to 15,000 to 7,000 to 3,000 for the top six finishers.

In the team competition, where five athletes can start with three scores taken into account, the winners will take home USD 15,000 with the sixth place finishers getting USD 3,000.

The attendance at Delhi is the best ever in the Championships which was first held in England in 1992. The previous best participation was in Brussels in 2002 when 60 nations took part.

The Kenyans have arrived with 2002 winner Paul Kosgei and John Cheruiyot Korir, who stood 6th in the 10,000m in Athens. The 22-year-old Korir was also fourth in the last edition in Portugal.

Some of the top Asian runners, except Athens women's Marathon winner Mizuki Obuchi of Japan, are set to give a tough fight to the Europeans and Africans in the meet which will also be the official Asian Half Marathon Championships.

Apart from Sun Yingjie, who won the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in the 2002 Busan Asian Games, a few of Japan's top runners would also be hoping to catch the eye. But the best possible challenge would come from Qatar led by former Kenyan Albert Chepkuri, now Abdullah Ahmad Hassan, who came fourth in the 2003 Paris World Championships.

Among other African nations, Uganda comes with a young team led by 23-year-old Wilson Busienei while Ethiopia and Morocco have entered relatively inexperienced line-ups.

The women's crown would be a battle between 34-year-old Sonia and Sun. Sonia came sixth only last weekend in the Great North Run (68:55) and will have her work cut out staying with Sun. The Chinese, who is the world's third-fastest ever marathon runner, is in peak form, having won an incredible 5000m (15:41.47) and 10,000m (31:47.23) double last week in China's National Grand Prix final.

The Delhi race will also bring back memories of the great German athlete-turned-coach Dr Otto Peltzer.

Peltzer later became a well respected coach in Delhi and after his death Peltzer's pupils began Otto Peltzer Memorial Road Races which produced some great stars like Sriram Singh, who finished seventh in the 800m at the Montreal Olympics.

Biju Babu Cyriac
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