Ethiopia's Berhanu Legese and reigning Olympic 10,000 metre champion Almaz Ayana clinched the respective elite men's and women's races at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon here on Sunday. Legese, who won the 2015 edition of the ADHM clocked 59:46 minutes followed by fellow Ethiopian Andamlak Belihu and American Leonard Korir, who completed their races in 59:51 and 59:52 minutes respectively. "I can't express the happiness in words," said an ecstatic Legese after the race. The elite international women's category saw a complete domination from the Ethiopians with Ayana completing her fantastic debut in half marathon with a timing of 1:07:11 followed by Ababel Yeshaneh (1:07:19) and Netsanet Gudeta (1:07:24).
After completing her maiden road racing event, Almaz the reigning World and Olympic felt participating in a half marathon was easier than her exploits on the track.
Ayana, who broke the 10,000 metre world record, set in 1993, by clocking 29 minutes at the Rio Olympics last year, however had little issues dealing with the early morning chill in the national capital.
"It is much easier to run a half marathon. There were a few problems with the road as I got confused. It was relatively colder which was also bit of an issue," she said.
The elite Indian men's field witnessed a close contest with a few milliseconds separating veteran Nitendra Singh Rawat with last year's winner G. Lakshmanan as they consumed 1:03:53 to complete their races, while the third spot was grabbed by Avinash Sable (1:03:58).
L. Suriya dominated the elite Indian women's race, with a timing of one hour 10 minutes and 31 seconds followed by Sudha Singh (1:11:30) and Parul Choudhary (1:10:31) grabbing the other two places on the podium.
Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore flagged off the race in the presence of Ravindra Singh Negi, CEO Airtel (Delhi and NCR circle) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here.
Speaking to reporters, Rathore said that he expected a great race with the air quality improving over the last couple of days in the national capital.
"Today weather wise, it's certainly better and with the large number of Delhiites turning up for the run early morning, it feels so good. It is very nice to see the people feel so energised.
"The change in India that I noticed in terms of awareness towards health and fitness is very positive for this country. We are the youngest nation in the world with 60 per cent of the population below-35 and we need to behave as the youngest as well.
"Congratulations to the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon organisers, and the participants who have made it a succes. I wish the elite athletes as well as the Indians very well," he added.
A record 35,000 people participated in the annual half marathon, which nearly ran into trouble this year because of poor air quality before the Delhi High Court allowed it to go ahead as scheduled.