Korio seeks a third 10K crown

Two-time winners Kamworor and Geremew will be hot on his heels; Lalita Babar pulls out

Kenya's Alex Korio at Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Defending champion Alex Korio will face a stiff challenge as he looks to do what no athlete has done in the 11 years of the TCS World 10K — win the title thrice.

In Sunday's race, the Kenyan, who also won here in 2013, will need to keep at bay two other two-time winners in Bengaluru — compatriot Geoffrey Kamworor, the reigning World half marathon champion, and Ethiopia's Mosinet Geremew, the hero here in 2015 and 2016.

“I have come here to win,” declared Korio. “I have prepared for this race for two-and-a-half months. The weather isn't bad. The course is exactly the same as last year. So I will push for victory.”

It is easier said than done, though. Kamwaror and Geremew are both in fine fettle, each winning a marathon and a half marathon in the last six months. On the other hand, Korio hasn't raced since January, having had to tend to an injury, and in the process missing the World Half Marathon Championship in Valencia in March.

Among the women, 2017 winner Irene Cheptai isn't returning; instead reigning women’s World half marathon champion and record-holder Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia, will be the biggest draw.

But with four other competitors also having their personal best times under the course record here (31:48), the field looks open. It even prompted race director Hugh Jones to say that the women's record was “vulnerable.”

Along with Gudeta, those looking to lower the mark include Kenyans Agnes Tirop, World Championships bronze medallist in 10,000m last summer, and Caroline Kipkirui, whose 10K timing of 30:28s is the fastest among Elite women.

Pauline Kamulu, also from Kenya, will make her 10K debut but her bronze medal finish in Valencia isn't to be discounted.

The city's weather, always a talking point ahead of the race, has been less than harsh with daily rains bringing down temperatures. But the late 8 a.m. start for Elite women and the 8.50 a.m. start for Elite men may still be a dampener, especially for the East Africans, who are more comfortable under colder conditions.

Also adding to the intrigue will be the absence of pacemakers — as confirmed by the organisers — which may lead to some tactical racing.

The Indian Elite women's field, however, suffered a blow on the race eve with Lalita Babar pulling out. The Olympian, who made the 3000m steeplechase final in Rio 2016, was on the comeback trail ahead of the Asian Games.

The focus will hence shift to the likes of Swati Gadhave, winner in 2014 and 2016, Monika Athare, the current National marathon champion, and Sanjivani Jadhav, bronze medallist at the Asian Cross Country Championship.

The men's charge will be led by Shankar Man Thapa, local lad A.B. Belliappa and Srinu Bugatha.