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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Avinash Sable braves Delhi pollution, breaks half-marathon national mark

Avinash Sable admitted he felt slight discomfort due to the pollution around the 14km mark but that did not deter him.

Written by Andrew Amsan | New Delhi | Updated: November 30, 2020 8:32:07 am
The Delhi half marathon was the first major athletics event to be held in the country post lockdown. (Photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Steeplechase specialist Avinash Sable admitted he felt slight discomfort due to the pollution around the 14km mark but that did not deter him from shattering the national record, clocking 1:00:30s at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday. The armyman’s commendable performance earned him an 10th spot overall as the next best Indian, Srinu Bugatha, finished more than three- and-a-half minutes behind.

The Delhi half marathon was the first major athletics event to be held in the country post lockdown and Indian runners were itching to get back to competition. Sable flew down to Delhi with high hopes as the Covid break gave him ample time to work on his endurance. The 3000m steeplechase record-holder said that the air became more pleasant during the race after the runners moved out of the India Gate area.

“It was a little difficult for just about a kilometre or so and I didn’t feel any discomfort after that,” he added. Delhi’s air quality remained in the “poor” category on Sunday and is likely to deteriorate due to a further drop in the mercury and calmer winds.

Sable, who trains at the Sports Authority of India facility in Bengaluru, said he wasn’t surprised at breaking the national mark in a discipline he doesn’t specialise in. He hinted that a question, although not aimed at him, during a press meet in the run-up to the race spurred him to give his best.

“That day, someone was asking why Indian runners are lagging so far in long-distance events compared to international athletes. I have proved by this run that we are inching closer. I didn’t come here to just win today. I wanted to prove a point,” Sable, who is generally soft-spoken, said assertively.

Despite setting a national mark in the half marathon event, Sable vows to remain loyal to his first love, the 3000m steeplechase for which has already booked a ticket to Tokyo. The 26-year-old will not take part in any road race from now until the Olympics.

“A major reason I took part here is that I wanted to know where I stand. Competitions are the best way to assess your performance. It was getting a little frustrating with no events happening in India. But this race was a blessing for us Indians. We could rub shoulders with the best in the world in our own country, that too during a testing period like this with the ongoing pandemic. We had an international meet in India itself, what more can we ask for? (laughs),” said Sable.

He has reason to be happy. Sunday’s race earned him a total cash prize of Rs 4.5 lakh. Does the champion have any party plans then? “No, I don’t party at all and now with Covid, that’s totally out of the picture. I will just go to my room and hydrate myself and check my social media accounts,” Sable says.

Second-best timing ever

The slightly modified race route, which cut down on U-turns, yielded great timings as both the men and women’s elite events witnessed new course records. Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw’s blistering run of 1:04:46 helped her rewrite Tsehay Gemechu’s 2019 course record of 1:06:00 and put her up in second place in the all-time list behind Ababel Yeshaneh’s world mark of 1:04:31.

“My training since the world championships told me that maybe I could break the course record as I ran 65:19 there, but this was more than I expected. I hoped for a win here after losing by just a second a year ago,” said the runner who pipped both the half and full marathon record-holders in Sunday’s race for the title and overall prize money of $37,000 (Rs 27 lakh approx).

The men’s elite event witnessed stiff competition for the top spot. Two-time defending champion Andamlak Belihu was dethroned by fellow Ethiopian Amdework Walelegn (58:53) by just one second. Stephen Kissa of Uganda finished third with 58.56 on the clock.

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