In its 16-year-long history, the fight for the title at the Mumbai Marathon has been largely restricted to runners from two African nations - Kenya and Ethiopia - who seemingly have an unending reserve of top-quality distance runners.
The 2020 edition of the race too promises to be no different.
Cosmas Lagat eyes another win
Leading the quality field in Mumbai on January 19 will be the defending champion Cosmas Lagat of Kenya. The 29-year-old who made his Mumbai debut last year surprised many with his running as he broke away from the leading pack by the 30-kilometre mark to surge ahead and took home the winner’s cheque of USD 45,000 in a time of 2 hours, nine minutes and 15 seconds.
Though the strategy worked in his favour then, on Sunday, the Kenyan will have to be wary of the challenge the field can pose in this IAAF (World Athletics) Gold label race.
While Lagat will want to become only the second man to defend the Mumbai Marathon title after his compatriot John Kelai did it in 2007 and 2008, trying to spoil the Kenyan’s party will be Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero and Abera Kuma, and Lagat’s compatriot, Vincent Kipsang Rono.
The 29-year-old Abshero broke into the limelight with his junior silver medal run at the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships before taking the gold in the junior race a year later. But it was not until 2012 that he truly established himself as a seasoned long-distance runner with a gold-medal-winning run at the Dubai marathon. The Ethiopian clocked his personal best of 2:04:23 in Dubai, but since then has seen his speed drop with every passing year.
Last year, Abshero ran a 2:08:26 race to win the silver medal at the Hamburg marathon while in 2018 his timings were largely around the similar region. But with the Olympics fast approaching, the Ethiopian will be keen to improve his timings if he is to make the national team that boasts of quality runners like Kenenisa Bekele, Birhanu Legese and Mosinet Geremew.
Worknesh Alemu sets sight on another win
The women’s category will also see the defending champion Worknesh Alemu of Ethiopia trying to defend the crown.
In 2019, the Ethiopian had taken everyone by surprise by pacing her run to perfection to upset the pre-race favourite with a personal best time of 2:25:45 for the gold. While the 29-year-old improved on that in October by clocking 2:24:42 to finish sixth at the Amsterdam Marathon, the Ethiopian will have to be on top of her game if she is to defend her crown on the Mumbai streets.
Testing the champion over the 42.2-kilometre stretch will be the fastest woman in the field and Alemu’s compatriot, Amane Beriso.
Beriso, who turned to marathon running in 2016, didn’t take much time to establish herself in the event, clocking a 2:20:48 time for a second-place finish at the Dubai marathon. However, since then, the 28-year-old has seen her timing take a turn for the worse. And with a 15-month absence from the course staring at her, it would be interesting to see how Beriso tries to get back into her rhythm.
The Indian challenge
Away from the international field, the 2020 Mumbai marathon will also see a handful of Indian elite hitting the Mumbai streets on Sunday.
While the race will not witness the top Indian runners Nitendra Singh Rawat and T Gopi, owing to injury, the likes of Srinu Bugatha, Rashpal Singh and Rahul Pal will be eager to make the most of the opportunity and could even try to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:11:30.
Among the women, the line-up includes Olympian and Arjuna Awardee, Sudha Singh and Jyoti Gawte. Sudha will be aiming for a third consecutive Mumbai Marathon title, while Gawte will be eager to break from her senior’s shadow and steal the limelight.
The Mumbai Marathon route
The 2020 Mumbai Marathon route in the island city remains largely similar to what it has been over the years, with the organisers having introduced minor tweaks with the hope of aiding the elite pack.
The race will begin at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and will see the elite bunch run around Oval Maidan twice, thereby adding 1.68 kilometres, in the initial phase, and then follow the old route till they return after covering the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link (30 km).
On their way back, however, while the elite athletes will take the same carriageway that they used to head towards the sea link, the open runners will take the adjacent lane, thereby avoiding being any hindrance to the elite bunch.
At the technical press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday, Race Director Hugh Jones explained this tweak. “This (change) allows us to shorten the loop at the Worli Sea Face where the elite normally passes the amateur runner, making them slow down. Runners will be more secure and will be in a better frame of mind for the final stages of the race.”
Where can you watch the Mumbai marathon?
The 2020 edition of the Mumbai marathon will be televised live on the Star Sports network and Hotstar with the action beginning at 7:15 AM IST.
Marathon (Open runners) 5:15 AM IST
Half marathon (Open and elite) 5:15 AM IST
Marathon (Elite) 7:20 AM IST.