Will Mekkonen make it two for Ethiopia?

Jan 19, 2014, 01:56 IST | Ashwin Ferro

While the Kenyans have dominated the Mumbai Marathon this far, Hailu Mekkonen could provide only the second instance of an Ethiopian crossing the finish line first in Mumbai today

Mumbai: It’s once again a battle between distance-running champions Kenya and Ethiopia at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon on Sunday. And while the Kenyans have dominated the Mumbai Marathon — winning seven of the 10 editions this far, Hailu Mekkonen seems all set to provide only the second instance of an Ethiopian crossing the finish line first in Mumbai. 

Hailu Mekkonen
Ethiopia’s Hailu Mekkonen, who is expected to come up with a supreme show today, crosses the line to win the Junior IAAF World X-Country Championships in Belfast. Pic/Craig Prentis /Allsport

Ethiopia’s Girma Assefa had previously won the 2011 race here.  Mekkonen’s personal best of 2:07.35 is over a second above the personal best of favourite Evans Cheruiyot of Kenya (2:06.25), and rather close to the second-best personal fastest time of 2:06.46 run by compatriot Eshetu Wendimu. However, on sheer fitness and form, Mekkonen is elite athletes co-ordinator Jos Hermens’ pick of the lot.

“Mekkonen is in top form. I know his coach well and we have been speaking over the last few days and he has told me that Mekkonen is looking good to win. He’s done his heats here and has fared very well in them,” Hermens told SUNDAY MiD DAY yesterday.

The Kenyans though are not prepared to let an athlete of any other nationality win. “Timings are only an indicator, but they don’t assure a medal. On the day, what matters is strategy and we (Kenyans) have a strong strategy in place,” said the experienced John Kelai, who has won the Mumbai Marathon twice (2007 and 2008).

Evans Cheruiyot and Eshetu Wendimu
Kenya’s Evans Cheruiyot and Eshetu Wendimu

Cheruiyot seems to be a clear favourite among his Kenyan teammates too. “Cheruiyot is very good… very fast. He should win easily,” said Kenyan Ishhmael Busendich. Compatriot Patrick Korir echoed his view. “A personal best of 2:06 is very good… it’s an unbeatable time here,” he said.

Cheruiyot sounded confident of clinching gold here. “I finished third in the New Delhi half marathon in 2006 but that was many years ago. This time I’m running well and though the weather is a little hot as compared to other venues I have run at, I think I can win this one,” said Cheruiyot, a Chicago Marathon winner, who is on his maiden visit to Mumbai.

Ethiopian Wendimu is Cheruiyot’s closest rival here, but the Kenyan thinks otherwise. “We have run many races together and I have beaten him (Wendimu) on most occasions. The last time we raced together was in Rotterdam in 2011 where I finished second and he was third,” said Cheruiyot, yet another fine gem from Kenya’s distance running-production line in Eldoret. 

Figure trigger

Total number of participants in today's Mumbai Marathon

USD 3,60,000
Total prize money for the event

1,35,000 litres
Quantity of water to be used on race day

Number of doctors on duty during the marathon

Number of policemen on duty

Number of volunteers on duty for race day

Number of NGOs associated with the marathon

The timing set by Uganda’s Jackson Kiprop to win the men’s 2013 full marathon (also a course record)

The timing set by Valentine Kipketer to win the women’s 2013 full marathon (also a course record)

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