Indian girls promise to challenge top African athletes

Having trained in the high altitudes of Ooty, the Indian women long-distance runners are bubbling with confidence. For a change, the elite home trio of O.P. Jaisha, Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh are planning to push the top African runners as hard as they can at the Airtel Delhi half-marathon here on Sunday.

O.P. Jaisha is the Marathon national record holder in the women's category.   -  H Vibhu

Having trained in the high altitudes of Ooty, the Indian women long-distance runners are bubbling with confidence. For a change, the elite home trio of O.P. Jaisha, Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh are planning to push the top African runners as hard as they can at the Airtel Delhi half-marathon here on Sunday.

“We are not competing here for money, we are doing it for the country. It is not important who among us will win (the Indian race), but we want to give a good competition to the Kenyans,” said Jaisha here on Friday.

Jaisha, an Asian Games bronze medallist in 5000m (2006) and 1500m (2014), had set a National record in marathon by clocking 2:34.43 in the Beijing World championship earlier this year. Jaisha and Sudha Singh (2:35.34) had finished 18th and 19th respectively in the Chinese capital to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

Sudha said the Delhi race would help them assess themselves in the run-up to the Mumbai marathon early next year. “The way we are training, we should do well. I had done 2:35.35 in the Mumbai marathon last year and my target is to go below 2:30 this time. Here in the half-marathon, we are targeting a time of around one hour and 10 minutes.”

Lalita Babar, who became the first Indian woman to qualify for a World championship track event and finished a creditable eighth in 3000m steeplechase in a star-studded field, also looked at the Delhi race as a perfect launch pad for the Mumbai showpiece event.

“I have been doing marathons after the World championship. This will increase my endurance level and help me in steeplechase,” said current Asian champion Lalita, who has booked a berth in the obstacle race in next year's Olympics.

Coach Nokolai Snesarev was emotional while speaking about the girls' tough training schedule. “They are dedicated athletes...You will see a new National record on Sunday,” said the Russian.