The rivalry between Kenyan and Ethiopian long distance runners is all set to start again in the Airtel Delhi half-marathon here on Sunday.

Two-time defending champion and Ethiopian running machine Deriba Merga leads a strong field of athletes in the men's section of the IAAF Gold Label event.

Merga, with a personal best of 59.15 set in the 2008 edition of the event, is the fastest runner in the talented field which has more than 10 sub-60 runners.

Merga will be accompanied by other Ethiopian runners like Eshetu Wendimu, who has a personal best of 59.56, and his training mate Lelisa Desisa.

The Kenyan field will be led by Geoffrey Mutai, who has a personal best of 59.30 set this year at RAK half-marathon. Incidentally, Mutai had beaten Merga in the same race.

Mutai will be backed by his training partner Erick Ndiema, who has also run below the hour mark this season.

Sammy Kosgei, Silas Kipruto, Kiplimo Kimutai and Leonard Lagat will be some other top athletes from Kenya to be seen in action.

The winner in 2008, Aselefech Mergia is considered as one of the favourites to win the women's competition. Aselefech, who recorded her personal best of 67.22 at the RAK half-marathon this year, will be pushed by her compatriot Mare Dibaba, who clocked 67.13 at that same race, and 2009 World half-marathon silver medallist Aberu Kebede.

The Kenyan challenge will be spearheaded by Sharon Cherop, the winner of the 2010 Toronto marathon with a time of 2:22, and junior star Lydia Cheromei.

Defending champions in the Indian men's and women's sections, Deepchand Saharan and Sukanya Mall, will be the strong contenders again. Deepchand had clocked 1:04.00 for the overall 17th finish among men, while Suknaya had timed 1:20.11 for the overall 22nd spot among women.

Altogether 8,700 runners have registered for the main half-marathon, while the overall number of entries stands at 30,000.

With the climate becoming cooler than previous years because of the late scheduling of the event, the competition for the top slots is expected to be more intense.

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