International elite athletes, including world champion marathoner Geoffrey Kirui and 10,000m Olympic gold medallist Almaz Ayana, today brushed aside concerns of pollution in the national capital and said they were ready for the Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday.
There have been calls to postpone or cancel the event and the Delhi High Court had issued a notice to the race organisers after the Indian Medical Association wrote a letter to the Court in this regard.
But the likes of Kenyan Kirui and Ethiopian Ayana have no such concerns and said they were looking forward to the race. The international elite athletes reached India on Wednesday and were introduced to the media on Thursday.
“I am feeling all right. Everybody is going to run and I am also going to run. I am not concerned about this (pollution),” Ayana, who broke the world record in women’s 10,000m race during gold winning feat in Rio Olympics, said.
On Sunday, 25-year-old Ayana, who also won the 10,000m gold in the London World Championships in August, is setting foot on the Indian soil for the first time and will also be making her debut over the half marathon distance.
She is running only the second international road race in her career after the 10,000m race way back in 2010 in Angola. She, however, said she is not contemplating running half marathon regularly in addition to the 5000m and 10,000m.
Ayana is currently the leading women’s long-distance runner in the world. She is also the second fastest runner of all time in 5000m. She won a 5000m silver at the London World Championships and is one of the three nominated for the IAAF Women Athlete of the Year.
“After World Championships, I continued training. There are not many good competitions so I trained hard for ADHM. Even though it’s a new territory, I’ll do my best,” she said. Kirui, who won the marathon gold London World Championships said he was not going to be bothered by the talks of pollution level in the national capital.
“I have come here for the race, that means I am not going to be bothered by the talks of pollution in Delhi. I ran here last year also and there is this talk of pollution. I am all right, not thinking about this pollution. I am now focused on Sunday’s race,” he said.
Kirui is familiar with the picturesque circuit in Delhi as he was sixth in a high-quality field two years ago. He has a personal best of 59:38. He said the course here is a good one but the weather makes it tough to come up with fast timings.
“It is a very good course, better than many half marathon courses in the world. But the weather here makes a little bit difficult to run with fast timings. We train at high altitude in Kenya and here the mornings are warmer.”
The men’s course record of Delhi Half Marathon is 59:06, set by Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in 2014 while the women’s course record has been standing since 2009 and belongs to Kenya’s Mary Keitany at 1:06:54.
Despite his impressive credentials which also include a win in the Boston Marathon in April, Kirui will not start as an outright favourite in the 21.097 km distance.
Two of his compatriots have run under 59 minutes, with the in-form Jorum Okumbo the fastest man in the field having run 58:48 earlier this year, while Alex Korio clocked 58:51 in Copenhagen Half Marathon, the third fastest time this year.
Ethiopia’s Yigrem Demelash ran 59:19 in the RAK Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates in February and he will be determined to climb one step higher on the podium after finishing second here last year.
In women’s race, Ayana will face her compatriot Worknesh Degefa, who is not only the defending champion but the fastest woman in the field having clocked 1:06:14 last year.
Indeed, the top three women from last year return with Ababel Yeshaneh (Ethiopia) and Helah Kiprop (Kenya) also coming back to Delhi.
The winners of both the men’s and women’s elite races will pocket USD 27,000 each and the total prize money purse (combined men and women) of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race has been pegged at USD 275,000.
The Indian challenge will be led by men’s defending champion G Lakshmanan, who will face competition from 2015 edition winner Nitender Singh Rawat. Olympian Sudha Singh will be headlining the elite Indian women’s line up.