The field was excellent in the elite men's group, there were at least 10 sub-60 runners, and there were huge expectations. Experts were hoping for a blistering run; one which would shatter the record of 59:15.
But, in the end, it all translated into very little as runners succumbed to
the Delhi weather in the Airtel half marathon. The warm and humid conditions took a toll on almost all the competitors, but Kenya's Edwin Kipyego was the one who could endure it more than his rivals, which is why he took home the winner's cheque of $25,000. Later, the Kenyan admitted that it was excruciating. "Halfway through the race, I was drained completely. I really had to dig deep into my reserves to withstand the unbearable conditions."
Edwin, who was in the leading pack, was comfortable in the first five km. The runners, however, started feeling the effects of the heat and humidity by the halfway mark. Ethiopia's Atsedu Tsegaye, the world fastest runner over 21km this year, faded away and eventually finished way down the ladder. Even Kenya's Ezekiel Chebii, the third-fastest runner this year, couldn't bear the heat and finished overall 15th. Defendi-ng champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia fell back to seventh place.
Edwin did show signs of fatigue around the 15km mark. Seeing his nearest rival, Leonard Langat, losing steam, Edwin too slowed down a bit. But he maintained a decent pace for the remaining distance, glancing over his shoulder time and again to see if someone was catching up. In the closing stages of the race, exhaustion was quite visible on Edwin's face, and after crossing the finish line he literally fell on his knees.
The Kenyans made a clean sweep of the men's race, but in the women's section, the elite runners from Ethiopia picked up first two positions with Yimer Wude grabbing the winner's trophy and pushing Wagnesh Amare to second spot. Kenya's Helap Kiprop, who had followed the two Ethiopians all through the race but fell back in the last 400m, finish third.
In the Indian men's category, youngsters took centre-stage, pushing the experienced runners behind to grab the top-three positions. It was Rahul Kumar Pal who outpaced Nitender Singh and Indrajeet Patel in the last 200m to win the race.
Rahul stuck to his strategy of holding on till the end and finishing off with a flourish. "I have good speed, I made use of it today," Rahul said. Two other Indians, Sandip Kumar and Elam Singh, also finished in the top 20.
Olympian Sudha Singh was winner in the women's category. The national record holder in 3000m steeplechase said she couldn't go for the record, as she wasn't fully prepared for the gruelling event. "I won the race on the strength of my track training," she said.