30,000 expected to run in Delhi half-marathon

By Archana Thiyagarajan, IANS
Thursday, November 18, 2010

NEW DELHI - Around 30,000 participants, including some of the world’s best long-distance runners, will hit the road Sunday morning, running for a whopping $210,000 prize money in what is now one of India’s most prestigious sporting events - the Delhi Half-Marathon.

The 21-km race has created a pulsating rhythm among the capital’s running fraternity. The excitement generated is evident at places like Lodhi Gardens and Nehru Park, where joggers are going their paces and giving finishing touches to their fitness preparations.

The Delhi Half-Marathon, which is in its sixth year, has been awarded the prestigious gold label, an honour that only six half-marathons in the world enjoy. The award is given by the International Association of Athletics Federations if a marathon fulfils a list of criteria, which include global television coverage, having elite participants from at least five countries and strict doping regulations.

“It’s a running revolution that is sweeping the country. From a country that’s not known for running, there are at least 10,000 people attempting the half marathon this year,” Vivek B. Singh, joint managing director, Procam International, the promoters of the event who are also behind the marathons in Mumbai and Bangalore, told IANS.

The event, besides hosting a half-marathon with an individual prize as high as $25,000, will also host a 10-km run, a wheelchair race and a veteran’s race to promote the spirit of running among the people. And not just that, about 70 NGOs are participating in the marathon to raise funds for various causes.

“The marathon is not just an event for seasoned athletes or elite runners. It is as much an event for the average Delhiite too,” says Sunita Godara, a 1992 Asian Championship marathon winner.

“I run a marathon club which offers free training and sponsorship to many people who want to run a marathon and I have people of all age groups and from all walks of life enthusiastically training for this event,” says Sunita, coordinator for the elite runners at the marathon.

The half-marathon will see big participation from top runners around the world like 2009 champion Deriba Merga of Ethiopia (who set his personal best of 59.15 at the 2008 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon), Sammy Kosgei from Kenya and Khalid El Boumlili, an IAAF Gold label marathoner from Morocco.

The women’s challenge too looks promising with top Ethiopians including 2008 champion Aselefech Mergia, Mare Dibaba and 2009 half-marathon silver medallist Aberu Kebede. Sharon Cherop from Kenya, winner of the 2010 Toronto Marathon, will also be in the line-up. The event is also set to witness movie celebrities like Bipasha Basu and Arshad Warsi.

However, Ashis Roy, 78, one of the oldest participants of the half-marathon, is of a different view: “I think that the few marathons we have in India, including the Delhi half-marathon, concentrate more on the elite runners than the common man,” Roy told IANS.

He refers to a Wall Street Journal report and says that in 2008, 341 marathons were conducted in the US alone and some 435,000 people had completed a marathon.

“The organisers should give a medal to everybody who finishes the marathon. That would encourage the spirit of running among youngsters. This will motivate the people to come out and run,” says the runner who has completed 106 marathons around the world.

(Archana Thiyagarajan can be contacted at archana87@gmail.com)

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