It was a day of the underdog, as the favourites melted in the Mumbai heat.
Little-known Denis Ndiso of Kenya beat the men's field by more than a minute while Bizunesh Mohammed pipped last year's winner Haile Kebebush in a close finish to lead an Ethiopian sweep in the women's section at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon on Sunday.
Though the Indian men were still not able to break into the top-10 of the overall standings, they came up with the country's strongest showing in Mumbai as Binning Lyngkhoi, Ram Singh Yadav and Arvind Yadav grabbed the 11th, 12th and 16th positions respectively.
But with Lyngkhoi of the Services coming in only after two hours and 20 minutes, the Indians lost out on qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. The qualification mark for the CWG was 2:19.
“I am happy that my roommate (Lyngkhoi) won,” Ram Singh, the fastest Indian man in last year's marathon said. “I had told you yesterday that I would qualify for the Commonwealth Games, but I could not do it today. It was very hot and humid.”
Ndiso, running only the second marathon of his career, topped Ethiopian Siraj Gena (2:13.58) and Samson Limareng (2:14.24) of Kenya. The 26-year-old broke away from the pack relatively early at the 25-kilometre mark, and though it looked like he would not be able to sustain the pace for the whole 42.2 km, Ndiso steamed on to the finish line.
Race experts had predicted faster timings, for both men and women, due to the inclusion of the Bandra-Worli sea-link, but the bridge proved more of a hurdle than a blessing. Ndiso clocked 2:12.34, well behind the course record of 2:11.51 held by fellow Kenyan Kenneth Mugara in the last edition. In the women’s section, Bizunesh returned with a 2:31.09, as opposed to 2:30.04 by Mulu Seboka in 2008.
The women’s race almost came down to a photo finish. As Bizunesh relaxed on the return stretch at Marine Drive, the more-experienced Kebebush caught up with her. The two went down almost neck-to-neck for the last three kilometres or so before Bizunesh produced a strong sprint in the end to beat her opponent by two seconds.
The top ten women to finish the marathon were all Ethiopians.