Tsehay Gemechu wins the Delhi Half Marathon (Procam International) © Copyright
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Defending champions Belihu and Gemechu targeting course records at Delhi Half Marathon

The topic of discussion at the traditional pre-race press conference for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon was on whether the course records could be broken at this year’s World Athletics Gold Label road race on Sunday (29).

The response was resoundingly positive from everyone.

“I am in shape to go even faster than last year,” said Tsehay Gemechu, who revised the women’s course record when winning in both 2018 and 2019.

However, the defending champion, who won in 1:06:00 in 2019, will face an even stronger set of rivals on Sunday than the two outstanding fields she defeated in the past two years.

Fellow Ethiopian and world half marathon record-holder Ababel Yeshaneh will be on the start line.

“I am coming here looking to show what I can do after finishing fifth at the World Half," said Yeshaneh. "I fell there (about three kilometres from the finish) and was very frustrated, finishing in tears, because I know I was in shape to win but you just have to pick yourself up and carry on. I have brought the shape I had in Poland to Delhi."

This year’s race can boast of not one but two world record-holders in the women’s race.

Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei stunned the world when she broke the long-standing women’s world marathon record by more than a minute at the 2019 Chicago Marathon, clocking 2:14:04, with Yeshaneh a distant second on that occasion in a personal best of 2:20:51.

However, at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in February this year Yeshaneh prevailed in a world record 1:04:31 with Kosgei second in 1:04:49. More recently, Kosgei won the London Marathon on 4 October in 2:18:58.

“After London, I took 10 days off, but I have since had six weeks of very good preparation for this race," Kosgei said. "I have a good record in half marathons, but I am not going to make predictions about this race as it is a very tough field. Some of the women may be better prepared as they competed at the World Half Marathon Championships last month.”

Other strong contenders include Ethiopian duo Yalemzerf Yehualaw and Netsanet Gudeta, as well as world marathon champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya.

The in-form Yehualaw finished second at the 2019 Deli Half Marathon, just one second behind Gemechu, and showed she's a rising star of distance running by finishing third at the World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia last month in a personal best of 1:05:19.

Gudeta, the 2018 world half marathon champion, was eighth in Gdynia after falling over mid-race, but helped Ethiopia to team gold.

Chepngetich won the world marathon title in Doha last year, having clocked PBs of 1:05:30 for the half marathon and 2:17:08 for the marathon earlier in the season. More recently, she finished third at the London Marathon in 2:22:05.

Gemechu's compatriot Andamlak Belihu, the defending men's champion, concurred with the comments about course records being in danger.

“I have been training very well, and I was disappointed with my fifth place at the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland last month, so I am in shape and very motivated to run well here,” said the two-time Delhi winner.

“Last year, I was just four seconds outside the course record (59:06 set by Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in 2014) and I think I can find the difference.”

On Sunday, Belihu will be bidding for an unprecedented third successive title in the Indian capital but the course he will cover is radically different to the one he won on in 2018 and 2019.

Two other men to watch will be the Ethiopian pair of Amdework Walelegn, who was second in Delhi last year and took the bronze medal at the World Half Marathon Championships last month, and two-time world 5000m champion Muktar Edris, who will be making his half marathon debut.

To comply with prevailing health-related measures, the runners will cover about 4.5 kilometres, starting at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, and then embark on two loops of approximately six kilometres, before returning to the finish outside the stadium by the same route.

“However, with smoother corners, fewer undulations and with the elite runners not having to contend with mass-race participants, I believe this is a faster course than previous years,” said race director Hugh Jones.

Phil Minshull (organisers) for World Athletics

Updated elite fields

Amdework Walelegn (ETH) 59:08
Leonard Barsoton (KEN) 59:09
Andamlak Belihu (ETH) 59:10
Josphat Boit (KEN) 59:19
Shadrack Kimining (KEN) 59:27
Abrar Osman (ERI) 59:47
Aron Kifle (ERI) 59:51
Stephen Kissa (UGA) 1:00:00
Tesfahun Akalnew (ETH) 1:00:10
Victor Kiplangat (UGA) 1:00:16
Muktar Edris (ETH) debut 

Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH) 1:04:31
Brigid Kosgei (KEN) 1:04:49
Yalemzerf Yehualaw (ETH) 1:05:19
Ruth Chepngetich (KEN) 1:05:30
Tsehay Gemechu (ETH) 1:06:00
Brillian Kipkoech (KEN) 1:06:56
Bekelech Gudeta (ETH) 1:07:03
Irene Cheptai (KEN) 1:07:39
Mimi Belete (BRN) 1:08:16
Failuna Matanga (TAN) 1:09:36
Nazret Weldu (ERI) 1:10:51
Eva Cherono (KEN) debut