The guy who keeps saying “okay” did more than okay. He won the fourth Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon on Sunday. Kenya's John Kelai, 30, invoked his willpower to start pulling away from the pack at the 37-km mark and beat favourite Gashaw Asfaw Melese of Ethiopia to finish first in two hours, 12 minutes and 28 seconds. This was the third time in succession that a Kenyan has won the men’s race.
The women’s crown sat atop Chinese Yang Zhiao Shu, 18. She clocked 2:36.17. Letay Negash of Ethiopia and Kenya's Jennifer Chesinson Lingakwiang finished second and third.
Kelai and Yang were also part of the Greatest Race On Earth, the four-event competition of which the Mumbai marathon is a part. Their performance will be included in the GROE tally. The two, however, did not set a new record, falling short of Rono Daniel’s time of 2:12:03 and Mulu Seboka’s 2:33:15 last year, making this the first edition of the marathon where records weren’t broken.
Kelai, who starts almost every answer with an “okay”, floated into a state of bliss after his triumph, his face sporting a permanent smile. As the flashbulbs exploded, he held the Kenyan flag behind him, arms spread wide. “I didn’t win anything last year. This victory makes me feel I have done my duty as a breadwinner, as a man. How will I celebrate it? With my wife and two kids back home in Kenya,” he said. Considering Kelai won $31,500, there will be more than bread on the festive menu. “I couldn’t have done it on my own. God was there by my side,” he added.
Wang attributed her victory to grit. “My 100 per cent commitment is what makes me succeed,” she said.
The marathon started from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus at 7.40 am as the city was just waking up. There was not much of a human crush since the six-km Dream Run, the most popular of the marathon categories, was to begin only at 9.10 am. But spectators lined the pavements. Those who weren’t on the pavement were out in their balconies, some in their pajamas and sipping cups of tea. Usha Mangeshkar snatched a look from the family apartment in Prabhu Kunj, Peddar Road.