Lelisa Desisa and Lucy Kabuu win Airtel Delhi Half Marathon

Running under ideal climate, Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa and Kenyan Lucy Kabuu clocked personal bests to win the men’s and women’s overall titles in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, the World’s Most Prestigious Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label race, on Sunday. Desisa beat back a strong challenge from Kenyan Geoffrey Kipsang, winning the furious sprint in the last 30 odd metres to win in 59.30 minutes, Kipsang finishing one second behind in 59.31. Mike Kigen followed home in 59.58, the top three runners beating the sub-hour mark.

Lucy Kabuu ran a strong tactical race to beat back her teammate Sharon Cherop and breast the tape in 67.04 minutes. Cherop clocked 67.08, while defending champion, Aselefech Mergia came home in 67.21. The high quality of the women’s race saw the top three finishers clock their personal bests.

The Indian performances too were encouraging, with Suresh Kumar breasting the tape in 64.08, eight second adrift of the Indian course record of 64.00, while the fastest Indian woman was Lalita Babbar, who stopped the clock at 77.38.

Pacemaker Milton Rotich took the runners through a steady pace during the first half of the race, crossing the 10km mark in 28.28.  A large group of around 20 athletes, including last year’s runner-up Lelisav Desisa and Sammy Kitwara of Kenya, the fastest in the elite men’s start-list with a fast 58:48 for his second place finish in ING Philadelphia half-marathon this September, were together in the initial stages of the race.

When the runners went past the Jaipur House on Dr. ZakirHussain Marg, Rotich allowed the others to take over, with 15 runners still in the lead group, which began to split as the group went past the iconic India Gate and approached the presidential palace, Rashtrapati Bhavan on Raj Path.  Kenyan Philemon Limo, Kenyan who won in Prague with a personal best 59:30, along with Dino Sefir were also among the leaders when the group of six went past the 10k mark on Sansad Marg, the road to Indian Parliament.

On the return journey towards India Gate, both Limo and Sefir dropped back and a group of four athletes surged on.  Kitwara was still among the leaders and kept hopes alive for an event record, but with just 3 km to the finish line, the foursome started to run on in a single line with Kitwara beginning to trail at this stage.

At the 20k point, the fight for the top spot became decisive with Lelisa Desisa and Geoffrey Kipsang running shoulder-to-shoulder.  Mike Kigen was 13 seconds behind the duo and Kitwara a little further.

Both Desisa and Kipsang started to sprint as they turned the straight 100m towards the finish at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.  At the end Desia become the second Ethiopian to win the men’s title at Delhi after the ‘double-take’ by his country-mate Deriba Merga in 2008 and 2009.  Although Desisa could not break the course record this time, he had the satisfaction of improving his personal best timing at this distance.  Incidentally his winning time today (59:30) was the third fastest in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon.   Kipsang, the current junior men’s world cross-country champion, was just a fraction of second behind the winner.  The third placed Mike Kigen of Kenya also clocked another sub-60 time to make the race memorable.

Pre-race favourite and last year’s world half-marathon bronze medalist Sammy Kitwara finished fourth in 1:00:09.  Five out of ten top finishers registered personal best timings.

“This year’s race was good.  I am a bit disappointed as I could not post a course record.  I had discomfort due to cold, otherwise I could have posted a sub-58 mark” Desisa revealed after the race.

The women’s was even more engrossing with defending champion Aselefech Mergia leading the field for a major part of the race on her fifth appearance in Delhi.  Having won twice, she was trying to set a unique record of three wins, however she had to give up in the final moments of the race as the pace was very hot.

The Kenyan pair of Lucy Kabuu and Sharon Cherop made things difficult for Mergia. The three of them were together all the way with another Ethiopian, Belaynesh Oljira hanging on their shoulder.  However, the experienced Kabuuthen picked up the pace to lead Sharon and Aselefech into what was also expected to be a sprint finish. Finally, Lucy Kabuu pulled away to finish in 67.04, four seconds ahead of Sharon (67.08), while Mergia clocked 67:21 for the third place—all personal best timings—as also the fourth placed Oljira’s 67:27.

“The support showed by my colleague Cherop was great, which helped me to post a Personal Best and I expect to go better when invited again to run here next year,” was Kabuu’s reaction to the media after her maiden Delhi win.

Both Desisa and Kabuu went home with the winner’s cheque of USD 25,000 each which derived from a total prize pool of USD 210,000.   There was a separate prize money for the top-finishers among the Indians.  Suresh Kumar (20th overall) and Lalita Babar (19th overall) were top male and female among the Indians and become richer by USD 4,000 for their effort.

As usual the race witnessed the participation of a large number of enthusiasts and celebrities. A host of dignitaries led by Ajay Makken, Minister of Sports, Govt. of India and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, besides Shahrukh Khan, BipashaBasu and Rajeev Khandelwal were present to cheer on the participants. Anil Ambani, Siddhartha Mallya, Rahul Bose and Gul Panag were among the celebrities who ran and completed the Half Marathon.