Ethiopian athletes run to glory on Pune’s roads

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A Kenya swept the Pune International Marathon last year, it was the turn of its neighbour and also a long-distance running powerhouse, Ethiopia, to shine as athletes from the East African country swamped the podium at the 28th edition of the marathon on Sunday. Athletes from the country located on the Horn of Africa took home seven of the nine prizes on offer.
Endale Abaneh Belachew, hailing from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, clinched the top spot as he finished the gruelling 42.2-km course in 2 hours, 17 minutes and 53 seconds.
Belachew, 26, who took the lead around the halfway mark, was not really troubled as the first runner-up, Ezekiel Cherop from Kenya, finished almost a minute later. Cherop clocked a time of 2.18.16 while Ethiopia's Edisa Merga Ejigu won bronze with a timing of 2.20.33.
Belachew said adjusting to the weather was the most important challenge for him. "I just landed in Pune a couple of days ago from Ethiopia, which is much colder. I had to get used to the heat and I am glad I kicked at the right time," he said. Belachew had won the 10-km race in the Bangalore marathon earlier this year. The Ethiopian had also participated in the Pune marathon's 2011 edition and figured in the top 10.
Nashik's Bhiku Khairnar was the best-placed Indian in the men's full marathon as he finished the course in 2.27.03 followed by K Moorthy who clocked 2.51.50.
The men's half-marathon too saw Ethiopia grab two of the three podium spots on offer. Habtamu Argu Wegi, a middle-distance runner, won the title, recording a time of 1.04.22. The men's half-marathon saw the toughest competition of the day as second placed Kenyan Yegon Daniel Cheruiyot clocked 1.04.22, with the Ethiopian, Wegi, chest-taping ahead of his rival. Melaku Bizuneh, another Ethiopian athlete, finished third with a time of 1.04.30.
Habtamu Wegi said this was his first competitive marathon. "Back home, I run 5- km and 10-km races. This is my first 21-km entry and I am glad to have won it. I am surely going to celebrate this," he said.
The women's half-marathon was an all-Ethiopian affair with the first three places going to athletes from the country. Aberu Zewude Tesema won the half-marathon with a time of 1.16.55 while Mestawot Tadesse Shanku finished second, logging a time of 1.17.16. Romeha Alene Woldu, who secured the third place, recorded a finishing time of 1.17.17.
Incidentally, while the response to this year's edition of the marathon was rather muted, same could be said about the quality of the athletes too. Last year's men's full marathon winner Luka Kipkemoi Chelimo of Kenya had completed the course in 2.13.03, while this year's winner Belachew finished the race almost four minutes behind. In the women's half-marathon, the gulf was even wider. Last year's winner Kamulu Pauline Kave had clocked 1.08.37 while this year's winner Aberu Zewude Tesema finished a staggering eight minutes late. The difference between the timing of last year's men's half-marathon winner and that of Wegi was three minutes and three seconds.
Man Singh of Pune won the men's 10-km run with a timing of 31.12 while Arjun Pradhan finished a very close second with a split of 31.13 followed by Ankit Malik who logged 31.14. Nilam Rajput from Navi Mumbai upset Commonwealth Games and Asian Games medallist Kavita Raut in the women's 10-km event. Rajput, who had won the Indian Open half-marathon in Delhi in 2012, completed the 10-km course in 37.25 while Raut came second clocking 37.30. Lalita Babar, another upcoming middle-distance runner, finished third. (India Express)

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