Defending men’s and women’s champions Andamlak Belihu and Tsehay Gemechu on Friday made their intentions clear that they will go for the course records in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon here on Sunday.
The 15th edition of the ADHM will see one of the best fields of international elite athletes with seven sub-60 minute runners among men and nine sub-70 minute runners among women.
An athlete finishing a men’s half marathon in less than 60 minutes is considered world class. In the women’s half marathon, a runner who can complete it in 70 minutes is considered top class.
Ethiopian Belihu had won the ADHM, a prestigious IAAF Gold Label Race, last year with a time of 59 minute 18 seconds and he said a course record on Sunday cannot be ruled out.
“It is possible to run better than the course record on Sunday. I am in good shape and India has been a happy place for me,” said the 20-year-old, who had finished second in his debut season, in 2017.
“It was a little frustrating just missing out on the course record last year but after running here in the last two years, I have experience and think I know what it takes to run faster. The most important thing is to win but if the pace is good, I can beat the course record.”
The course record of 59 minute 06 seconds still stands in the name of Ethiopia’s Guye Adola, set in the 2014 edition.
The temperature on Sunday is also likely to be an ideal one, hovering around 23 degree Celsius.
Belihu finished fifth in the 10,000m race in the World Championships in Doha last month and he said he has recovered from that race.
“I trained hard for two-three months for the World Championships and I knew this Delhi Half Marathon was also in my schedule. So, I am prepared. I have recovered from the World Championships race,” he added.
A big threat to Belihu’s bid to retain his title can come from a man who has yet to run the distance, another Ethiopian Hagos Gebrhiwet, who is set to make his half-marathon debut.
Gebrhiwet had planned to make his half marathon debut in Delhi last year but a late bout of illness curtailed his training and he had to cancel his trip.
However, the two-time World Championships 5000m medallist wants to exorcise his frustrations at only being able to finish 10th in 10,000m in Doha, despite having gone to the showpiece as the fastest man in the world over the distance.
“I am excited to make my debut at the half marathon. Andamlak has told me about this race and so I know that it is a very fast course,” said Gebrhiwet, who will be running his longest ever competitive race on Sunday.
In the women’s elite section, Gemechu made a huge impact on her debut last season, setting a women’s course record of 66:50.
This year she has produced a string of sparkling performances both on the road and on track, including winning a high-quality Valencia 10km race at the start of the season. She finished fourth in the 5,000m in the Doha World Championships.
“Last year, I did not know much about running in this level of race, but I have had a lot more experience since then. I have had a good year, run a lot on the track.
“I just missed out on a medal in Doha but I am only 21 so I will have more opportunities. It was a fast race in Doha and I showed I was in good shape ahead of this Delhi race, so I think another course record here is a possibility,” she added.
Among Gemechu’s leading rivals will be the Kenyan-born Caroline Kipkirui, the fastest woman in the race with a best of 65:07, who now flies the flag for Kazakhstan.
“This will be a very tough race. The Ethiopian women are very strong but don’t discount me and the Kenyans like (Edith) Chelimo and (Irene) Cheptai,” said Kipkirui, who is sixth on the all-time list for the distance.
Both the men’s and women’s races have first prize cheques of USD 27,000 with a total prize money purse (combined men and women) of USD 275,000.
“It’s so important to have both our defending champions come back to the ADHM. This is a great testament to the race, to Delhi and to India,” said Vivek Singh, joint managing director of race promotors Procam International.
The ADHM 2019 has had 40,633 entries for its various races on Sunday.