Mumbai: The metropolis is set to witness another intense rivalry for top honours between Kenya and Ethiopia tomorrow when the USD 3,60,000 prize money 11th Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon is flagged off from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Kenyans have dominated the men's section over the last 10 years, winning seven, while Ethiopians have lorded over the women's event, also with seven titles. The latest edition also promises another hot contest in cool conditions.
Kenya's two-time champion and Delhi Commonwealth Games gold medal winner John Kelei is bidding to turn back the clock and prove that age has not diminished his skill and stamina in the gruelling 42.195-km distance.
The 37-year-old veteran has won the event back-to-back in 2007 and '08, was third behind compatriot Kenneth Mungara, who, too, is in the fray this year, in 2009 and was runner-up the next year before clinching the CWG gold in Delhi.
Kelei is aiming to send a strong signal to his country's athletics federation by his performance here to allow him a chance to defend his CWG title in Glasgow, UK in July-August.
"That's my primary target. There are so many challengers, hundreds of them, in Kenya, but I want to defend my Commonwealth Games title in Glasgow. If I can win in hot and humid conditions here I can do better in colder Glasgow. Mumbai is a lot tougher and I want to do well and send a strong signal to the federation," Kelei said two days ago.
However, he can expect tough competition from former Chicago Marathon winner and compatriot Evans Cheruiyot, who has a personal best of 2:06.25, the fastest in the men's field which has 16 runners who have clocked 2:10 or below.
The second-fastest is Ethiopian Eshetu Wendimu, with a personal best of 2:06.46, while 2011 champion Girma Assefa of Ethiopia is also in running for the top prize of USD 41,000.
As far as Indian men are concerned, there is a strong contingent of Services runners -- including multiple-time national best timers Ram Singh Yadav and Binning Lyngkhoi -- who will compete for the top prize of Rs 5 lakh.Yadav, who set the host nation-specific course mark (2:16.59) in 2012 to qualify for the London Olympics where he flopped miserably, has been the fastest Indian man four times and was second in 2010.
Lyngkhoi, last year's top Indian finisher, has won the crown three times in the last four years and is the favourite, especially with 33-year-old Yadav coming into the race after recovering from a knee injury five days ago.
The other top Indian contender for the top prize of Rs 5 lakh is former steeplechase champion Elam Singh, who was runner-up behind Yadav in 2012 and was third last year.
Also in the fray among 20 runners from Services are Satya Prakash and Kajilal Vinilog Patle, who finished 1st and 2nd at the January 5 Kolkata Marathon.
Karan Singh, V L Dangi and Budha Ram, all capable of running below 2:21, apart from Vasai-Virar champion Sanvroo Yadav are the other contenders along with Arvind Kumar Yadav and K C Ramu.
Among the women, last year's runner-up Dinknesh Mekash of Ethiopia leads the field with a personal best of 2:25.09. She leads a strong Ethiopian contingent that includes Etalemahu Kidane (PB 2:25.49), Asnakech Mengistu (PB 2:25.50) and Aberu Mekuria (PB 2:26.07), who finished third last year.
The Kenyan challenge will come from Eunice Kales, and outsider Gladys Kipsoi, a half-marathon specialist, making her full marathon debut. Namibian Helalia Johannes and Ukranian Yuliya Ruban are the other names in the reckoning.
Indian elite athletes co-ordinator Sunita Godhra said yesterday that 34 top men runners and 18 women, including last two years' top woman Lalita Babbar, is to take part in the full marathon. "For the half marathon there will be 38 elite men and 12 women runners," she said.
Among the entrants for the 21-km race are Asian Games track gold medallists Sudha Singh and Kavita Raut, scheduled to reach here this evening, according to the race organisers.
The prize money offered ranges from Rs 5 lakh for the winner to Rs 50,000 for the tenth placed runner. They have the added incentive of Rs 1 lakh for breaking the course record.
There will be six pacemakers in the men's marathon and two in the women's race with USD 15,000 on offer for setting new course records....