NEW DELHI: The top two finishers in the men’s section of last year’s Airtel Delhi half-marathon are here again to renew their rivalry.

In the 2008 edition, Ethiopian Deriba Merga had pipped Kenyan Wilson Kipsang by only a second to take the title. Both the runners, who had dished out sub-60 performances a year ago, are eyeing at the top slot as well as bettering the world record of 58:33, set by Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya in 2007.

Apart from the handsome prize money, the flat course here is a big attraction for the long distance runners all over the world. For Merga and Kipsang, it is no different.

“Delhi half-marathon is very important (on the international calendar). The flat course gives a good chance to better one’s timing,” Kipsang, who had finished fourth in the World half-marathon championship this year (68:00), told reporters here on Friday.

Kipsang admitted that last time he had pushed too hard too early which prevented him from returning a better timing. Though the field is strong, the 27-year-old, who achieved his personal best of 58:59 at the RAK international half-marathon in Ras Al Khaima, thinks he can run much faster.

Merga raring to go

Defending champion Merga, who had clocked 59:15 in 2008, has recovered fully from a knee injury and is raring to go. “I am well-prepared and will do better than last year,” he said.

After his defeat to Merga here in 2008, Kipsang had taken revenge of sorts. The Kenyan had ended up at the second spot pushing 29-year-old Merga to third in the Ras Al Khaima event this year. Now, their rivalry is likely to touch newer heights here.

Another strong contender is South African National champion Stephen Mokoko, who was eighth in the World half-marathon with a timing of 61:36. This year, he had recorded his personal best of 61:26 in Port Elizabeth.

Different conditions

“Conditions in India are not very different from South Africa. My training is going on nicely and I am very fit. I am expecting a good finish,” Mokoko said.

Former 400m World and Olympic champion Cathy Freeman was delighted to promote the race as one of its brand ambassadors. “It’s lovely to meet some athletes I have met before,” said Cathy, planning to run a 15 km race in Melbourne next year.

Though she is busy with her Foundation work, Cathy is gearing up to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her 2000 Sydney Olympic gold medal victory, which has made her an icon among the Australians.

“I think what I have achieved can be achieved by others,” she said while emphasising that parents’ support was necessary to back a child to take up athletics seriously.

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