Morning showers on Saturday brought relief to organisers of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, settling dust particles floating in the air and turning conditions favourable for athletes.
The alarming level of toxins in the air was such a headache that it had even forced race organisers to think of a new window to hold the annual event.
Air pollution took centrestage despite a stellar field at the ADHM as world champions Geoffrey Kirui and Almaz Ayana will be in action on Sunday morning.
Despite the bad weather, top athletes gave a thumbs-up to the IAAF Gold Label Road Race event which will see reigning world 10,000m champion Ayana making her debut in the half marathon.
All eyes will be on the Ethiopian to see whether she can transfer her stunning form on the track in the last two years, which also saw her break the 10,000m world record when winning gold over 25 laps of the track in Rio, to the roads.
“This will be my first half marathon and I have been preparing really hard to be here. I hope to have a good race on Sunday as the conditions look great here,” Ayana said on the eve of the event.
Kirui, who won the men’s marathon at the IAAF World Championships in London earlier, knows what racing in Delhi is all about. The Kenyan runner was sixth two years ago, when he set his current personal best of 59:38.
“There is no athlete here who can beat me when I am in form. I have prepared very well to come here and run. Everything depends on the weather on Sunday.
“I have run here before and have decided to come back here again. I like the city, it is a nice country. I like the conditions here,” Kirui said.
Nevertheless, despite his fine credentials, which also include a win in the Boston Marathon back in April, Kirui will not start as the favourite.
Three of his compatriots have run under 59 minutes, with the in-form Jorum Okumbo the fastest man in the field having run 58:48 earlier this year, while Ethiopia’s Yigrem Demelash was runner-up and is determined to climb a step higher on the podium this time around.
Both runners, and the rest of the elite field will be chasing very strong course records in Delhi.
The men’s mark is 59.06 set by Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in 2014 while the women’s course record has been standing since 2009 and belongs to Kenya’s Mary Keitany at 1:06.54.
In the women’s race, Ayana will face compatriot Worknesh Degefa, who is not only the defending champion but also the fastest woman in the field having clocked 66:14 in 2016.
Indeed, the top three women from 2016 return with Ababel Yeshaneh and Helah Kiprop are all back tin Delhi to challenge for the title again.
Lakshamanan, Sudha to lead home charge
Defending champion of the elite Indian men’s category G. Lakshanan is determined to keep his title and will also look to better his time of 1:04:37 in the 2016 edition.
The other home athlete to watch out for are Olympian Nitender Singh Rawat, who is a regular at the event since 2012 and Kalidas Harave.
Sudha Singh will start as the favourite in the Indian women’s elite field as the 2010 Asian Games gold medallist is the most experienced of the lot, also featuring the 2016 edition’s third-placed runner Swati Gad along with Parul Chaughary and L. Suriya.