At the pre-race press conference for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei both pronounced themselves fit and ready to go at the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (21).
Three-time Olympic champion Dibaba ran the outstanding time of 2:18:55 at the Berlin Marathon just over a month ago but believes she has recovered quickly and is ready to challenge for the first prize cheque of US$27,000 in India’s capital city.
“One of my plans was to run a 21K (half marathon) after Berlin and my manager told me about Delhi, and I thought it was a good idea,” said Dibaba, who has turned into one of the world’s top road runners after a star-studded track and cross country career which also included nine world titles on those surfaces.
“I’ve recovered more or less, although I wanted to run faster in Berlin. I’ve come to Delhi with the first target of winning, I’m not thinking about times too much,” added Dibaba, suggesting she won’t specifically be targeting the course record of 1:06:54 which has belonged to Kenya’s Mary Keitany since 2009.
By contrast, although she didn’t put a figure on her ambitions, the current half marathon world record-holder Jepkosgei is clearly looking to run quickly in Delhi and hoping that her speed will take her to victory.
“I’m looking to run a fast time, but improving on my world record (of 1:04:51 set in October 2017) might be difficult,” said Jepkosgei. “Of course, it all depends on the weather and climate.”
Jepkosgei grabbed international attention in an emphatic way on several occasions during 2017. She set a world half marathon best of 1:04:52 in Prague in April last year and improved that mark by one second to 1:04:51 in the Spanish city of Valencia 12 months ago. Sandwiched between these two record-breaking half marathon outings, Jepkosgei became the first woman to cover 10km on the roads within 30 minutes when she ran a world record of 29:43 on her return to the Czech capital Prague in September 2017.
Dibaba and Jepkosgei have met twice before. Firstly, at last year’s Ras al Khaimah Hal Marathon when Jepkosgei finished third and the Ethiopian legend was fifth, and then in May this year at the Manchester 10km when Dibaba got the upper hand with a convincing win, 31:08 to 31:57.
Such is the quality of the field, though, the top spot on the podium could be claimed by someone other than Dibaba or Jepkosgei.
Caroline Kipkirui set a personal best of 1:05:07 to finish third in Ras Al-Khaimah earlier this year, finishing 99 seconds ahead of Jepkosgei. Two months later, she finished second in Prague in 1:06:09 to finish one second ahead of 2016 Delhi Half Marathon winner Worknesh Degefa, who will be back in the Indian capital on Sunday.
Two other highly-rated Ethiopian women will also be on the start line: Yeshaneh Ababel and Senbere Teferi.
Since finishing second in Delhi last year, Ababel was victorious at the Istanbul and Yangzhou half marathons. Last month she finished second in Copenhagen, setting an Ethiopian record of 1:05:46.
Teferi, who will be making her half marathon debut, has won World Championships medals on the track and at cross country in the past and will arrive in Delhi fresh from setting a 3000m personal best at the recent IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018.
Kiptanui looks to continue exciting road breakthrough
Little more than a year ago, Eric Kiptanui was still a 1500m specialist. Having since branched out to longer distances on the roads, the 28-year-old Kenyan has enjoyed almost immediate success.
Earlier this year he won high-quality half marathons in Lisbon and Berlin. He clocked 1:00:05 in Lisbon, his debut at the distance, and then ran a world-leading 58:42 in the German capital to move to fourth on the world all-time list.
Kiptanui will be accompanied on his first trip to India by his training partner Daniel Kipchumba, who paced Kiptanui to 15 kilometres in Berlin. A few weeks later, Kipchumba stood on top of the podium himself after a win in Verbania in 59:06.
Alex Korio – whose best of 58:51 was set in Copenhagen last year – has run in Delhi twice in the past, last in 2015, but has never faced either of his two compatriots in battle.
Ethiopia’s Leul Gebresilase finished second at the Dubai Marathon at the start of the year in 2:04:02 while compatriot Feyisa Lilesa won a memorable silver medal in the marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Their half marathon bests are 59:18 and 59:22 respectively.
USA’s Leonard Korir and New Zealand’s Zane Robertson are also in the men’s elite field. Korir just missed the North and Central American record of 59:43 when he ran his personal best of 59:52 at this race last year while Robertson holds the Oceania record with 59:47.
Hagos Gebrhiwet, winner of two World Championships 5000m medals and an Olympic bronze medal, will make his half marathon debut on Sunday. In his last race, at the IAAF Diamond League 5000m final in Brussels on 31 August, he ran 12:45.82 for second place and moved up to fifth on the world all-time list for the event.
Delhi has a reputation as a flat and fast course and all of the leading contenders will have in mind the course record of 59:06, set by Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in 2014. The temperatures at the early morning start time for the elite races are expected to be about 20C.
“Fifteen years ago, there was no road running culture in India and now we have world record holders and Olympic champions coming here,” said Vivek Singh, joint managing director of race promoters Procam International. “This is something India can be very proud of.
“The fact that runners like Tirunesh (Dibaba) and Joyciline (Jepkosgei) have chosen the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon over the many other race options they had is a great statement for this event and for India.”
Phil Minshull (organisers) for the IAAF