Reigning men's race champion, Kenya's Evans Ruto and his countrymen including Henry Sugut and Luke Kibet, will face stiff competition from three Ethiopian challengers at the $360,000 Mumbai Marathon which will be flagged-off here Sunday.
Last year the Kenyans completed a clean sweep, clinching the top three places, but this year their party could be ambushed by the Ethiopians, who are led by the experienced Dereje Debele, Shume Hailu and Tesfaye Abera.
The 29-year-old Debele, who has a personal best time of 2:07:48, has not had a very impressive 2014, but this time around he is expected to produce a strong run. Hailu comes into this race with wins in Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes and Rome Marathon, both with timings of a little over 2:09.
However, the 30-year-old Ruto, who finished in 2:09:33 last year and narrowly missed the course record, is set to defend his title. Ruto also has a promise to fulfil as he said last year that he would return and try to finish the race in 2.07 or 2.08. So with a personal best of 2:07:47, he has a promise to keep.
Besides Sugut, who returns after an injury layoff and Kibet, the other Kenyan runners are Jacob Cheshari, Filex Kiprotich, Michael Chege, Benard Rotich, Peter Kosgei, Silas Kipruto and Bernard Kihanya.
Meanwhile, the women’s defending champion Dinknesh Mekash will spearhead a strong field of seven runners from Ethiopia and with just two Kenyans in the fray, they are expected to dominate the event. The 30-year-old Mekash, who trains in Addis Ababa, will have to watch out for Kenya’s Gladys Kipsoi if she hopes to retain her title.
Kenya's Kipsoi, who finished second to Mekash last year, had said that she wants to win the race and has trained hard and would give her best to emerge a clear winner.
Indian category defending champions Karan Singh and three-time winner Lalita Babar are the faces of the Indian challenge in the men’s and women’s categories. But this time Karan, of Army Sports Institute, will face strong competition from seasoned Ram Singh Yadav, who has vast experience in long distance running.
Rashpal Singh of the Sikh Regiment, who finished second last year, and Ratiram Saini from Rajasthan are the others who could stop Karan from defending his title.
Meanwhile, veteran Kerala athlete O.P. Jesha will pose a major threat to Babar and prevent the Maharashtra runner from extending her reign. The Keralite, who is making her marathon debut, had earlier said that she has nothing to lose and would go all out to push for a first place finish.
From this year there is an added incentive for Indian participants as IT firm TCS will sponsor the top two elite Indian (male and female) runners, who finish in the first and second positions at the New York City Marathon.
The weather will play a big role. If the temperature drops, then the people of Mumbai will witness a great race.