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African runners set to dominate Mumbai Marathon

Mumbai: Long-distance runners Ethiopia and Kenya are once again set to dominate the USD 350,000 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon`s tenth edition on Sunday.

Kenyans and Ethiopians have captured all the men`s and women`s titles in the annual event barring a couple of occasions in the women`s category and a repeat is on the cards in cool conditions Sunday morning.

The men`s course record of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 54 seconds set by Ethiopian winner Girma Assefa two years ago is under threat with defending champion Laban Moiben of Kenya leading the assault.

"I will be happy to win. I am not thinking about the course record. If it (course record) comes along, fine. I am not training for it. The conditions can be tough," said the 29-year-old Kenyan, who edged out Ethiopian rival Raji Assefa in a photo-finish in last year`s race, ahead of the run.

"It was a tough race last year. But the conditions, especially the humidity, were not bad. I don`t know (about the conditions) this time," he added.

The elite men`s field in the 42.1 km Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus-Bandra (via Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link)-CST route also includes the inaugural edition`s winner Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, last year`s runner-up Raji Assefa and third-placed John Kyui.

Moiben and Assefa were locked in a close tussle for the first place in the 2012 edition and both clocked 2:10.48, with the Kenyan passing through a fraction of a second ahead of the Ethiopian.

This time, though, it`s the Ethiopian Assefa who comes with the huge reputation of being the fastest athlete in the field, having clocked 2:06.24 while winning the 2012 Paris Marathon.

Moiben too has had a good run in 2012, defending his title in the Ottawa Marathon, by clocking a personal best of 2:09.13.

After winning in Mumbai, South African Ramaala went on to win the New York Marathon and emerged as one of the leading marathoners in the world. Still running competitively at the age of 40, Ramaala clocked 2:12 in last year`s Dubai Marathon.

Ramalaa, 40, has returned to the Mumbai event after a nine-year gap and remembers Bollywood celebrities and cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar among those present when he won the title in 2004.

"There were a lot of celebrities from Bollywood, (American Olympic champion) Michael Johnson (brand ambassador) and Sachin Tendulkar witnessing that race. It was kind of my `lucky` stint in the Athens Olympic year. I failed in the Olympics but then won the New York marathon in the same year," he recalled.

This year`s event has attracted 10 men, who have clocked below 2 hours and 10 minutes in their career, and five women who have run marathons under 2:30.

Among the other top male athletes in the field are Abraham Girma of Ethiopia (who clocked 2:06.48 Amsterdam 2012), Elijah Kemboi of Kenya (2:07.51, Kosice 2012), Shumi Eticha of Ethiopia (2:09.03, Stockholm 2011), Joseph Maregu of Kenya (2:09.25, Vienna 2009), Garshaw Melese of Ethiopia (2:08:03, 2006 Paris), Joseph Kiptum of Kenya (2:09.56, Hannover 2012) and veteran William Kiplagat of Kenya who had clocked 2:06:50 in 1999 at Amsterdam.

The women`s field will be led by Lishan Dula, an Ethiopian who now represents Bahrain. Lishan has a personal best of 2:26.56, which she clocked in the 2011 Rotterdam Marathon.

Lishan will face competition from Ethiopians Aberu Mekuria, winner of the 2012 Eindhoven Marathon, and Yeshimebet Tadse, third place finisher at the 2012 LA Marathon.

The other notable names in the women`s field are Kenyans Valentin Kipketer, with a PB of 2:28.02, and Margaret Toritich, besides Ethiopians Dinknesh Mekash, Fantu Jimma and Desta Tadesse. There would be three pacemakers each in the two sections.

The men`s and women`s winners would take home USD 40,000 each and there`s a bonus of USD 15,000 for breaking the course record in both categories.