New Delhi: Reigning Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya expectedly won the men's race of Delhi Half Marathon in a fast time but below the course record while Ethiopia's Worknesh Degefa clinched the women's title as thousands of people thronged the roads of the capital city here on Sunday.
The 32-year-old Kipchoge, considered one of the greatest marathoners of all time, clocked 59 minute and 44 seconds to cover the 21.097km distance and win the race at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium ahead of Ethiopia's Yigrem Demelash, who clocked his personal best of 59:48, in a close finish. Another Kenyan Augustine Choge was third in 60:01.
Kipchoge, running here in his first competitive race after winning Rio Olympics marathon gold in August, was clearly the pre-event favourite in men's elite race but many had thought he would lower the course record of 59:06 set by Guye Adola of Ethiopia in 2014.
But, neither he lowered the course record nor could do better his personal best of 59.25 in a course considered one of the fastest in the world.
The three podium finishers ran together as a leading pack along with two pace setters till the 14km mark before Choge dropped out around the 17m mark. Kipchoge and Demelash were together till the final kilometer before the eventual left behind his challenger with a burst to the finish line.
In the women's elite race, Degefa clocked one hour, seven minutes and 42 seconds to clinch the title ahead of fellow Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh (1:07:52) and Helah Kiprop (1:08:11) of Kenya. Reigning half marathon world champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya was fifth with a timing of 1:08:28. The women's course record was 1:06:54, set by Mary Keitany of Kenya in 2009.
Both the men's and women's elite champions pocketed USD 27,000 (Rs 1.84 million) for their victories while the Indian winners got Rs 3,00,000 each.
Among Indian men, G Lakshmanan, who has won the 2013 edition of Delhi Half Marathon and also TCS World 10K 2016, emerged the winner with a timing of one hour, 04 minutes and 34 seconds while Mohd. Yunus (1:04:38) and Man Singh (1:04:40) were second and third respectively.
It was a sensational finish in Indian elite women's race as Monika Athare made a dash to the finish line with a time of 1 hour 15 minutes and 34 second just one second ahead of half-marathon debutant Sanjeevani Jadhav (1:15:35).
In the third spot was pre-race favourite Swati Gadhave with a time of 1:17:43. All the three women clocked their personal best timing.
After winning the elite men's race, Kipchoge, a living legend in Kenya, said he had come to run in a "polluted city" to inspire the young people of India.
"The first reason that I came here is to run in a city that is polluted to inspire a whole generation and a country to take up sports. In this way, the Indians can train openly in the morning, afternoon and there is no harm," he said.
"I came here purely for running in a polluted city. For the past four days that I'm here I've been reading on twitter about the pollution scare but I told these people it's not an issue. One of them told me 'I don't allow my kids to run for more than an hour'. I showed them that its okay by running for an hour today," added the Kenyan who had won a silver in 5000m race in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.
The USD 2,70,000-prize money event witnessed more than 12,000 runners in the elite Half Marathon (21.097km) category; around 19,000 participants in the Great Delhi Run (6km), around 1000 in Senior Citizens Run (4km), and around 500 in the Champions with Disability category (4km), taking the total number of participants to nearly 34,000.
Sports Minister Vijay Goel and Athletics Federation of India President and IAAF Council member Adille Sumariwalla flagged off the races.
Former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell, who was brought to India by PUMA, graced the event and cheered the runners.
Kipchoge's world famous coach Patrick Sang, known for churning out several champion long distance runners in Kenya, said it was tough for his celebrated ward to break the course record after giving his best effort in the Olympic Games.
"Kipchoge has given his all, the best effort for the Olympics marathon and it is difficult for him to come up with another record breaking effort here three months after that (Rio effort). But his sub-60 performance is still very good. I am happy and satisfied for his performance," Sang told PTI.
He said the running conditions were good though he refused to comment whether the poor air quality of Delhi was an issue for the runners.
Asked if he would advise his wards to come again for Delhi Half Marathon next year also if the organisers invited them, he said, "Yes of course. If invited we would be eager to come again next. I would love to come again. More than winning, we also want to inspire people of this country to take up to running."
Pleased with her top spot finish in the women's elite category, Degefa said, "It's a pleasure to be a part of Delhi Half Marathon and I would like to come back next year with more power and vigour. The race was good, the weather made the race very comfortable, I am very happy to win the race today."
Indian winner Monika was equally happy after her win.
"The climate was very good. It is the biggest platform for us Indian runners. 40 minutes into the race I was in the lead. Swati covered up in last 5km and ran very impressively in her debut half marathon appearance. With just a few metres to the finish line, I was able to attack with full power and pipped her to clinch the title," said Monika.