New Delhi: Birhanu Legese of Ethiopia and Kenya's Cynthia Limo overcame stiff competition in the men's and women's elite field respectively to become the first-time winners of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon here on Sunday.
Legese sprinted past fellow Ethiopians in the final 200 metres to shatter his own personal best by a whopping 25 seconds.
His winning time of 59:20 was 14 seconds slower than the course record set last year but that had a lot do with six runners running closely right till the end.
Another Ethiopian Mosinet Geremew ended a second slower than the men's champion while the final podium position went to world record holder Zersenay Tadese, whose race was hampered after someone accidentally stepped on his shoe at the 8km mark.
Kenyans swept the women's elite field with Limo finishing just ahead of Helah Kiprop and Genet Yalew. Only a fraction of a second separated the top two with both Limo and Kiprop ending with identical times of 1:08:35. Both elite men and women got richer by USD 27,000.
"It is my first time in Delhi and I have come up with a personal best. It is even more satisfying considering the top six was so close," Legese said referring to the fact that top six finished the race under one hour.
World record holder Tadese did well to come third after the shoe incident and the satisfaction was visible on his face. "I am happy to have finished the race that way I have, after stopping at the 8km mark. It was unfortunate, somebody caught me, I had to stop," said the Eritrean.
Women's event winner Limo said: "I finished fourth last time so I can't asking for anything more. I will be back next to defend the title. Delhi has been a good host."
Though Delhi is infamous for its pollution, the international athletes were all praise for the 'not so hot, not so cold weather'.
<div class="fulstorytext" id="1tak6790872" style="clear:both; border:solid 0px red;" "=""> It was a carnival atmosphere on the selected streets of Delhi with more than 30,000 people coming out to be part of the running feast. The flag-off venue, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, saw the Delhiites from all walks of life turn up in hordes.
Among the Indian runners, Nitendra Singh Rawat and Lalita Babar topped the timesheets in the men's and women's category.
Rawat produced a time of 1:04:41, four seconds faster than second placed Gopi T and Mohd Yunus, who was another second behind.
Lalita raced to the finishing line in 1:10:52, way ahead of current national record holder in marathon O P Jaisha, who managed a time of 1:11:34. Sudha Singh came third clocking 1:11:46.
All three of them were also left behind the course record of 1:17:12 set by Kavita Raut in 2008. The Indians in either category got Rs 3 lakh for their exploits.
While Sudha was not happy with her effort, Lalita was also not in the mood to celebrate her success.
"Celebrations can wait. The main target is to qualify for Rio Olympics. We head back to Ooty now for training," said Lalita, who is targeting a qualification in the 3000m steeplechase.