Ethiopia’s Amedework Walelegn and Yelamzerf Yehualaw were on top of their game as they displayed some top-quality distance running to win the 2020 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday.
The men’s event saw Amedework Walelegn produce a well-calculated race to beat the two-time defending champion Andamlak Belihu in a close finish. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Yelamzerf Yehualaw stuck with her pacemaker to take home the title in the women’s half in what was the second-fastest time in the history of women’s half marathon.
In what was a war of attrition in the men’s race, Ethiopians Amedework Walelegn and Andamlak Belihu along with Stephen Kissa of Uganda were locked in a tight race until the final few metres before Amedework Walelegn accelerated just ahead of the finish line to win the title.
Amedework Walelegn took the top prize in 58:53, breaking the course record of 59:06, set by another Ethiopian Guye Adola in 2014, while Andamlak Belihu settled for a silver, finishing his race a second behind. The 25-year-old Stephen Kissa completed the podium in 58:56.
Completing their opening five kilometres in just under 14 minutes, the elite men runners headed had little to choose between them. While the pacemakers led the pack, the likes of Belihu, Walelegn, Kissa and the two-time world champion on the track, Muktar Edris, stayed on their heels.
Soon, reigning champion Belihu eked ahead as they headed towards the Rajpath for their second lap before setting off on their return journey to the stadium.
The Ethiopian was closely followed by the former cross country silver medallist Leonard Barsoton of Kenya, while Walelegn and Kissa ensured that they didn’t drift back as the race picked up speed.
However, unlike in the past two editions where Belihu broke away from the pack around the 17-kilometre mark before setting himself on the victory lap, the Ethiopian had his competitors matching him stride for stride this time.
Eventually, it came down to a sprint finish on the final turn with Walelegn edging past his competition to take the win.
Yelamzerf Yehualaw sets the tone
Meanwhile, in the women’s event, Yelamzerf Yehualaw, a bronze medallist at the recently concluded World Half Marathon Championships, came up with a splendid run for her ADHM title.
The Ethiopian clocked 64:46 for the top prize, her timing 15 seconds off the women’s world record in a mixed-gender half marathon set by Ababel Yeshaneh at the Ras Al Khaimah event earlier this year.
The timing also helped her set a new course record, obliterating the previous best of 66 minutes, set by the two-time defending champion Teshay Gemechu last year.
Women’s marathon world champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya was second in 65:06 while Yeshaneh took the bronze medal in 65:21.
It was a disappointing day for the world record holder in women’s marathon Brigid Kosgei, who was forced to pull out of the race around the seven-kilometre mark.
But that didn’t bother the race leaders much as they, led by their pacemaker Alex Kibarus, continued at a quick pace throughout the race.
Crossing the 10-kilometre mark in just over 30 minutes, the quartet of Yehualaw, Yeshaneh, Chepngetich and Gemechu broke away from the pack and were involved in a battle of their own.
While Gemechu was the first to tail off, unable to keep up with the fast-paced race, Yehualaw and Chepngetich looked in complete control of the proceedings as Yeshaneh stayed along heading into their return stretch to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
With just over five kilometres to go, Chepngetich and Yeshaneh soon struggled to keep pace with their pacemaker and pulled back, leaving Yehualaw as the sole leader.
The Ethiopian ensured that she dug deep into her reserves to stay on top of the race and continued to surge ahead while Alex Kibarus, the pacemaker ensured that he kept Yehualaw in contention for a course record.
With the pacemakers dropping off with just over a kilometre to go, Yehualaw kept her composure to push herself through the final few metres and take home the title she was denied a year ago by a second.
Avinash Sable breaks national record
Among the Indian runners, Avinash Sable gave another example of his talent by setting a new national record en route a 10th place finish on Sunday. The talented runner obliterated the previous Airtel Delhi Half Marathon best of 63:46, set by Kalidas Hirave in 2018.
The 26-year-old Sable, who’s qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in 3000m steeplechase, was in his element as he broke away from the Indian pack early in the race and surged ahead to join the trailing international runners before crossing the finish line in 60:30.
In the women’s half, Parul Chaudhary came on top with a quality run that saw her set a new personal best on the streets of Delhi. The 25-year-old clocked 72:18 to win the ADHM among the Indian elite. Sanjivani Jadhav and Komal Jagadale finished second and third, respectively.