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Weather worry as African rivalry takes centre stage

india Updated: Jan 15, 2012 01:00 IST
Camilo Fernandes

"Will it be cool in the city?" asked a Kenyan athlete who will be running in the ninth edition of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, at the elite athlete gathering on the eve of the race. That was a question high on most athletes' minds.

Most of Mumbai will have woken up to a glorious Sunday by the time readers get their eyes on this. A huge portion of the 2,708 athletes running the classic distance in the Mumbai Marathon will be well on their way, from their 5.40 am pre-dawn start. The better-trained amateur runners would have covered a lot of distance leaving behind their slower counterparts who will, no doubt, be putting their bodies under tremendous physical and mental torture to finish the race before the course is opened for vehicular traffic at 12 noon.

But the very best in the business of running, however, will not have the luxury of running such a cool race here. Because, when the elite runners of the Mumbai Marathon line up for the start in the 42.195km race to get their hands on part of the $340,000 (Rs 1.75 crore) prize money, the sun will have already risen a good 10 minutes before their start at 7.25am. Even though the start time has been pulled 15-minutes behind this year, the biggest concern was how the climate would pan out for the rest of their race.

Even with most of their better runners opting to race in the more lucrative Dubai Marathon on January 27, the Kenyans are still expected to dominate the men's full marathon. "We are hoping the climate will be cool," said 34-year-old Kenyan runner William Kipsang who is hoping to complete the race with a time of around 2:10. Winner of three marathons since he started running the marathon in 2003, he said the weather would play a big role in how fast the runners finish.

Another Kenyan athlete, Laban Moiben, 28, when asked of any team strategy, said: "That will be decided by the team pacemaker Dickson Marwa from Tanzania."

Ethiopians favourites
If the Kenyans are favourites in the men's, the Ethiopians are so among the women. Asha Gigi, part of the group of 17 runners, who is here after winning Italy's Florence Marathon in November last year, exuded confidence. "Because it was cool in Italy, it did not take long to recover after the race," said Gigi. "We are all very happy to be here for the first time," added the mother of two with a wide smile.

India's Binning Lyngkhoi, who is on his hat-trick in the full marathon for the Indian runners category, was confident of clinching his third title. The Pune-based Army Sports Institute runner said: "We have trained hard and I'm hoping to make the Olympic qualifying standard here."

A positive for the runners seems to be the tweak in the course - going over the Bandra-Worli sea-link from the Worli-end rather than the other way. "Unlike last year, the runners will be running with the wind rather than against it and that too before the sun gets any warmer," he added.