The Sugut and Seboka symphony

IT was music with a difference along the Mumbai seafront.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

IT was music with a difference along the Mumbai seafront. But symphony was certainly produced as loose-limbed marathon runners from Kenya and Ethiopia tapped their rhythm on the road in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2005. Kenyan Julius Sugut raced against himself in the men's event, in the process inspiring four others who finished behind him to beat the existing course record. Mulu Seboka of Ethiopia killed the competition in the women's category, yet her pace was fast enough to goad the first nine to better the time of last year's winner.

The medal-winners of the men's event -- from left -- Chris Isegwe (silver), Julius Sugut (gold) and Gashaw Malese (bronze). There was no challenge in sight for Sugut, who in the process set a course record.-AP

The presence of African men and Russian and African women lent lustre to the second edition of the marathon, held along the seafront like in 2004, but on a simpler, revised route that eliminated one uphill stretch. The cool, misty January morning helped the runners. But, by the time marathon great Tegla Loroupe of Ethiopia hit the streets for the women's half-marathon, humidity had set in. Making her first appearance in Mumbai, with a winning effort and a timing of 1:18:50, Loroupe promised to return for the full marathon next year.

Sugut knew the route, was aware of his strengths and placed a high premium on patience. So when the smooth-striding Kenyan made his move at 28 kilometres, shaking off two runners struggling to keep pace, there was no challenger in sight till the tape. He set a men's marathon course record time of two hours, 13 minutes, 20 seconds, won $ 30,000, and improved on his second place performance behind South African Hendrik Ramaala in 2004.

"The pacemaker did his job very well," said Sugut about Simon Tonui's lung-bursting run along the seafront till the half-way mark before getting into a jeep for a ride back. "I decided to take charge after looking around and finding none of the others following me," said Sugut, who won his fourth marathon of seven in his career.

The $ 30,000 award was Sugut's biggest career pay cheque. It is likely to be a good enough incentive for the professional marathoner from Eldoret, who runs about 300 kilometres a week in training, to aim for better performances for his team New Line DK in the team challenge, named the Greatest Race On Earth (GROE) and determined by results in Nairobi, Singapore, Mumbai and Hong Kong marathons. The Kenyan's stellar show lifted New Line DK to fourth place.

Mulu Seboka, a shy 21-year-old Ethiopian whose name translates to `full' in her language, teamed up with training mate Leila Aman till 37 kilometres before breaking away. Her timing of 2:35:03 was better than the 40th ranked male runner (2:35:10), yet the lady from Addis Ababa seemed unaware of the magnitude of the achievement.

Mulu Seboka, who won the women's marathon.-AP

Talking with the help of a translator, the champion revealed how she got into marathon running. "I was spotted in my village by talent scouts, who asked me to join the national camp. There I was trained for the marathon," said Seboka, admitting that she had not run on track. "Maybe, they were impressed by my endurance," was the Ethiopian's frank explanation.

The $ 20,000 earned for winning the women's marathon also did not figure in her conversation. "Money does not bother me. I want to become a famous runner," said Seboka, for whom the fame earned by Olympians Derartu Tulu and Fatima Roba is more enticing. Violetta Urgya, the 2004 winner, was one of the many famous faces swept away by this African prodigy. Urgya could only finish 11th in 2:49:45 with the Russians, East Europeans and Ethiopians figuring in the top 10.

Indian runners came up with creditable performances this year, bettering their performances of last year. Madhuri Gurnule finished second (1:21:59) in the women's half marathon behind two-time New York Marathon winner Tegla Loroupe. Balaram finished in the 28th position (2:25:27) in the men's marathon ahead of many Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.

Sports Minister Sunil Dutt (party hidden), Sachin Tendulkar and Anju George cheering the participants.-VIVEK BENDRE

Gurnule's courage and confidence shone through when pitted against Loroupe, the most accomplished runner in Mumbai Marathon 2005. She led for eight kilometres, then kept pace with Loroupe for 15 kilometres. "I tried hard to be with her till the turn, but from there she was too fast," said the distance runner from Maharashtra.

Services runners Deepchand, Jagannath Lakade and P. Nagendra bagged the first three places in the men's half marathon. Nathuram and Bipin Sahariya finished 29th and 30th in the main event. In the women's main marathon, Indres Dhiraj clocked the fastest time among Indian participants for the second consecutive year (3:04:33).

Switcher, official clothes sponsor of the marathon, will be sponsoring Balaram and Madhuri's participation for the Lausanne Marathon later this year as reward for being the `best Indian performers' among men and women. Procam International, the event organiser, gave separate prize money for Indian participants in full and half-marathons.

The results

Men's marathon (42 kms): 1. Julius Sugut (Ken) 2:13.20; 2. Christopher Isegwe (Tan) 2:13.29; 3. Gashaw Malese (Eth) 2:13.59. Best Indian performers: 1. Balaram (2:25.27); 2. Nathuram (2:25.49); 3. Bipul Sahariya (2:26.12). Women's marathon: 1. Mulu Seboka (Eth) 2:35.03; 2. Leila Aman (Eth) 2:36.19; 3. Irina Timofayeva (Rus) 2:36.42. Best Indian performers: 1. Indres Dhiraj (3:04.33); 2. Leelamma Alphonso (3:05.50).

Men's half-marathon (21 kms): 1. Deepchand (Ind) 1:07.11; 2. Jagannath Lakde (Ind) 1:07.54; 3. P. Nagendra (Ind) 1:08.20. Women's half-marathon: 1. Tegla Loroupe (Ken) 1:18.50; 2. Madhuri Gurnule (Ind) 1:21.59; 3. Khemkumari Goswami (Ind) 1:26.02.

Running for a cause

IT certainly lived up to its name — Dream Run. The non-competitive event of the 2005 Mumbai Marathon was made memorable when celebrities, corporates and commoners joined hands on the road to make the event a success. In the build-up to Dream Run, Anju George, India's most famous athlete, helped 59 cardiac patients of the Asian Heart Institute & Research Centre (AHIRC) to be part of the event. She gave fitness tips to patients enrolled in the institute's cardiac rehabilitation programme as a result of which 59 participants took part in the Dream Run for seven kilometres. "There is a myth among most cardiac patients that exertion through regular exercise and sport is harmful for their heart. We feel that routine exercise is of prime importance," said Dr. R. Panda, CEO of AHIRC.

Anju George, accompanied by husband Bobby George, said that she was surprised by the large turnout for the event. "Events such as the Mumbai Marathon are needed to put India on the world sports map," said Anju George. "I didn't expect it to be so big, with so many people running on the streets," said the Olympian, promising to come again.

The idea struck a chord with famous names such as Geet Sethi, Sachin Tendulkar, Dhanraj Pillay and Ashwini Nachappa striding with hordes in the Dream Run. Running alongside were special invitees Kapil Dev, British track greats Linford Christie and Steve Ovett.

Anil Ambani completed the half-marathon in 1:27:31, symbolic of corporate India's embrace of the running culture. Company teams running for a cause included TCS, which fielded the biggest team of 150 employees, ICICI, Bank of America, HSBC, KPMG, McKinsey, Novartis and Pfizer to name a few.