Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa and Kenyan Lucy Wangui Kabuu achieved their personal bests on their way to claim the men's and women's crowns in the Airtel Delhi half-marathon, which was held on a new, flatter course here on Sunday.
On a chilly morning, last year's runner-up Desisa staved off a strong challenge from Kenyan Geofrey Kipsang (59:31) to return a winning time of 59:30, which was 15 seconds behind Deriba Merga's 2008 record set on the older course. Kipsang's fellow countryman Mike Kigen (59:58) bagged the third place.
This was the second time, after 2008, in the history of the event that the top three men finishers had clocked sub-60 timings.
The women's race was also keenly fought with all the podium finishers grabbing their personal bests. A 10,000m gold medallist in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Lucy ran creditably to cut 00:02 sec from her previous best performance (in the Great North Run in England two months ago) and lift the title with a 1:07:04, ten seconds less than Mary Keitany's course record set in 2009.
Another Kenyan, Sharon (who had ended up at the eighth spot in 2010 following her best showing of 1:08:51) exhibited a marked improvement to record 1:07:08 for the second position. Defending champion Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia, who led most part of the race, bettered her Ras Al Khaimah performance of 1:07:22 in 2010 by 00:01 sec for the third slot.
Pacemaker Milton Rotich took the runners through a steady pace during the first half of the race, crossing the 10km mark in 28.28.
Despite nursing a bad cold, Desisa, who trains with big names like Haile Gebrselassie and Deriba Merga, took the title in a clinical fashion. An expert in short sprints, the 21-year-old ran neck and neck with Kipsang and Kigen to clock identical timings at 10k and 15k marks. At 20k, the title race came down to the top two with Kigen trailing by 00:13 sec.
Desisa remained patient until he made the final burst of 200 yards to reach the finish line in style and pocket the winner's purse of $25,000.
Lucy, who edged ahead of Sharon after 13k, had a memorable competition. The Kenyan stayed in control for most part of the race and was on her knees to thank God after completing the formalities.
“The weather was very cool…the race was enjoyable. I got the support from Sharon. I am happy to achieve my personal best,” said the 27-year-old, who received a cheque of $25,000.
First-timer Suresh Kumar was the best among Indian men with a timing of 1:04:08. Services' Kheta Ram (1:04:44) and V.L. Dangi (1:05:02) claimed the second and third places, respectively. “After completing 14km, I had a feeling that I could win. I ran unchallenged after the 18k mark,” said 20-year-old Suresh.
Last year's 1-2 duo of Lalita Babar (1:17:38) and Kiran Tiwari (1:17:59) maintained their stronghold over their respective positions by earning personal bests. Lalita had done a 1:18:05, while Kiran had made a 1:18:55 in the previous edition. Swati Gadhave (1:20:56) got the third spot in her first half-marathon.
The Indian winners received $4,000 each as prize money.
Men: 1. Lelisa Desisa (Eth) 59:30; 2. Geofrey Kipsang (Ken) 59:31; 3. Mike Kigen (Ken) 59:58.
Women: 1. Lucy Wangui Kabuu (Ken) 1:07:04; 2. Sharon Cherop (Ken) 1:07:08; 3. Aselefech Mergia (Eth) 1:07:21.
Indian men: 1. Suresh Kumar 1:04:08 (overall 20th); 2. Kheta Ram 1:04:44 (22nd); 3. V.L. Dangi 1:05:02 (24th). Women: 1. Lalita Babar 1:17:38 (19th); 2. Kiran Tiwari 1:17:59 (20th); 3. Swati Gadhave 1:20:56 (23rd).