Mumbai Marathon: Matebo, Mekash start favourites

Full-marathon and the half-marathon (21-km) are competitive races, besides the Dream Run, Senior Citizens Run and Champions with Disability races.

Vivek Bendre

Two time Olympic champion and International event ambassador for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, David Rudisha (second from left) with international marathon runners Seboka Dibaba (left), Levy Matebo and women runner Dinknesh Mekash (right) at a press conference in Mumbai.   -  Vivek Bendre

The marathon after an Olympic year is an event for new faces, as established long-distance runners opt for a break to speed up recovery before a return to the professional circuit. Five months after the 2016 Rio Games, a little-known runner may be crowned champion in the men’s elite category at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) 2017 on Sunday. He may even be a designated pace-setter making use of cool morning temperatures to continue beyond the 30-km mark.

The winners’ purse of USD42,000 is tempting enough to dump the script, as Gideon Kipketer showed last year. The Kenyan burst ahead of the field and set a furious pace, in keeping with his role as pace-maker for elite runners, and then went on to finish in a course record time of two hours, eight minutes and 35 seconds to become the men’s champion. Thonakal Gopi, second among Indians and 11th overall in Mumbai last year, also was a pace-setter for his army teammates and finished in 2:16:15 on debut.

Gopi and Nitendra Rawat, part of a three-member men’s marathon squad at the Rio Olympics, have skipped the Mumbai run this year. Rawat finished 10th overall in SCMM 2016, ahead of several foreigners from Kenya and Ethiopia. These two Indians overtook many elite African runners in the stride to the finishline. Kheta Ram is the only established name present, creating space for lesser-known Indians to grab the spotlight.

Kenya’s Levy Matebo (2:05:16 clocked at the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon) is the elite male runner to be tracked. He has gone under Kipketer’s course record time, four times in his career. Ethiopian Seboka Dibaba (2:09:20) and Tanzania’s Alphonce Simbu are potential champions. The former ended second last year, while the latter was fifth at the Rio Olympics. The Mumbai marathon has seen a new champion each year from 2004, except in 2007 and 2008 when John Kelai devastated the field to emerge champion.

Ethiopian Dinknesh Mekash (two-time winner in 2014 and 2015) is among the participants in the women’s elite marathoners this time. With a personal best of 2:23:12 and a familiarity of the Mumbai course gives her a head start. With Olympians Lalita Babar, O. P. Jaisha and Sudha Singh deciding to rest, it is an opportunity for new Indian names to shine and attempt a top-10 placing to grab a bit at the prize money. The women’s overall champion will also earn USD42,000.

The SCMM, promoted by Procam International, offers a USD15,000 incentive for breaking the course record. The Indian runners, elite men and women, have a separate prize money structure for placings and bettering the Indian national record. Full-marathon and the half-marathon (21-km) are competitive races, besides the Dream Run, Senior Citizens Run and Champions with Disability races.

Indians to watch — Kheta Ram, Elam Singh, Mohd Yunus, Sanjith Luwang (men’s marathon), G. Lakshmanan, Srinu Bugatha, Ab Balliappa, Man Singh (men’s half-marathon), Jyoti Gawate (women’s marathon) and Monica Athare, Manisha Salunkhe, Minakshi Patil, Jyoti Chouhan (women’s half-marathon).

Dabang Mumbai hockey players in Dream Run

Dabang Mumbai players, in the city to prepare for Hockey India League 2017, will take part in the SCMM 2017. It is learnt that Harmanpreet Singh, Gurjant Singh, Manpreet, Nilakanta Sharma and Krishan Pathak will be in the Dream Run to express solidarity with CRY’s 'Support The Girl Child' initiative. These four were members of the 2016 Junior World Cup Hockey squad in Lucknow. India beat Belgium in the final.