African athletes Ruto, Mekash to defend Mumbai Marathon titles

Last year's men and women's full marathon winners, Evans Ruto of Kenya and Dinknesh Mekash of Ethiopia, are set to defend their titles in the USD 3,60,000 prize money 12th Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon on January 18.

"Ruto, who last year clocked 2 hours, 9 minutes, 33 seconds - missing the course record by just one second - is keen to break it this time," Vivek Singh, a representative of event organisers Procam, said at a media conference today.

The 31-year-old Ruto is expected to face tough competition from compatriot Luke Kibet, the 2007 Osaka world marathon champion, and Ethiopian Endeshaw Negesse, who will be the men's title holder's leading challengers this year.

In the women's race, which also offers USD 41,000 to the champion like the men's, Mekash -- who clocked 2:28:08 while clinching the title last January -- is the favourite to defend her crown. However, she is expected to face severe test of long distance running skills from Gladys Kipsoi of Kenya, who finished second behind her last year, and Marta Megra of Ethiopia.

The men's field includes 13 runners who have clocked 2:12 mark and are capable of dipping under the course mark of 2:09.32 set in 2013 by Ugandan Jackson Kiprop.

The organisers have roped in top Japanese watch maker Seiko as the race's timing partner for the first time, Singh said. Seiko has been associated with the International Association of Athletics Federations at major championships since 1985.

Marion Bartoli of France, the 2013 Wimbledon women's singles champion, is the event's brand ambassador.

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