TCS World 10K: Stiff competition for defending champion Agnes Tirop

Ethiopia’s Tsehay Gemechu and Senbere Teferi, and Kenya’s Evaline Chirchir are also in contention for the top prize.

From left: Rose Chelimo, Paul Tanui, Geofffrey Koech, and Agnes Tirop at a press conference in Bengaluru.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Defending champion Agnes Tirop faces an uphill battle to retain the TCS World 10K crown which she won in record-breaking fashion last year. The Kenyan had obliterated the field then, shaving 29 seconds off the previous course record to finish in 31:19s.

In Sunday’s race though, she will face stiff competition from the Ethiopian duo of Tsehay Gemechu and Senbere Teferi and compatriot Evaline Chirchir. Gemechu has the best timing in 10K in 2019, running 30:15 to win in Valencia early this year while Chirchir’s 30:43 in the same race is the third fastest.

Teferi, who was pipped by Tirop in 2018 in Bengaluru, comes on the back of a victory at the RAK Half Marathon (UAE). Tirop on the other hand is yet to race this season.

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“It is my first race. I can’t say how fast I am going to run but I feel well,” Tirop said. “The competition will be tough. But I have nice experiences of running here and I enjoy it.”

Early start

That the elite races will start a full 50 minutes earlier than last year — 7.10 a.m. compared to 8 a.m. — can help in a few faster times being registered. But the hot weather may still prove a dampener. According to race director Hugh Jones, a repeat of the previous year, where not just Tirop but the two others who followed her were also inside the previous best, is unlikely.

Among the men, with defending champion and three-time winner Geoffrey Kamworor not returning, the roster will be headlined by Kenyan trio of Mathew Kimeli, Vincent Kiprotich and Geoffrey Koech. Kimeli clocked 27:45 in Valencia, among the top-10 efforts this season, while Kiprotich won in Wurzburg (April) in 27:35.

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Koech hasn’t been in great form of late, having had ordinary outings in two half marathons, but he did finish 2018 with his personal best of 27:18, a mark well below the course record in Bengaluru (27:44). There is also the Ethiopian Birhanu Legese — no stranger to India — who finished on the podium in the last edition. Kenya’s Paul Tanui, who has a fine record in 10,000m track racing — winning three bronze medals in the last three World Championships and the Olympic silver at Rio 2016 — can be the dark horse.

The Indian elite women’s field sees the return of Sanjivani Jadhav, who set a new course record (33:38) in 2018. Joining her will be two-time champion Swati Gadhave (2014 & 2016) and Parul Chaudhary, the 2019 Federation Cup 5000m title-holder.

The men’s charge will be led by Abhishek Pal, winner at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2018, G. Lakshmanan, a champion here in 2016 and current steeplechase National record holder Avinash Sable.