Ethiopians reign on Super Sunday

Deriba Merga bags mens title, Alsefech Meriga emerges womens champion

A little over a month ago, Merga had triumphed in the Boston Marathon, crushing his Kenyan rivals along the way. And just a week back, he brushed aside another Kenyan en route to a sensational win in the Ottawa 10K race.

The script was very much similar on Bangalore’s roads as Merga dominated the men’s elite race, timing 28 minutes and 13 seconds to take home the top prize of US $21,000. Playing second fiddle this time was Kenya’s Mark Kiptoo in 28:15, while his compatriot Bernard Kipyego came in third 28:24.

It was an Ethiopian Super Sunday with Alsefech Mergia winning the elite women’s race after a long battle with Kenya’s comeback Mum Mary Keitany in 32:08, even as thousands of Bangaloreans turned up to join in the fun in different segments of the competition.

Overnight rains had brought the temperature down to a comfortable 22 degrees celsius at the start of the race but Merga still found it hot as he settled for a time that wasn’t up to his expectations. “It is fantastic to win but the heat and humidity bothered me,” said the 28-year-old. “I am not at all happy with the time and my rivals too didn’t push me hard enough.”

On the eve of the race, Merga had talked of setting a hot pace. True to his word, the Ethiopian took off early but he had some close followers with Kiptoo, Kipyego and Wilfred Kipsang staying in touch with the leader. Rwandan Dieudonne Disi was with the lead pack initially but fell back after the two-km mark. There were hopes of a good time when the half-way point was reached in 13:53 but the runners, perhaps troubled by the weather, eased off a bit, dashing those hopes.

After six kilometres, Kipyego and Kipsang fell behind, and from then on, it was left to Merga and Kiptoo to fight it out. Merga, always in control, opened up a four-metre lead after 8km and protected it till the entry into the Sree Kanteerava Stadium before building on it in the final lap around the track. Kipsang, who was expected to challenge Merga, finally ended up fourth, behind Kipyego, in 28:30.

“My next target is the World Championships in Berlin. I want to do well in the marathon there,” said a delighted Merga, who was fourth in the Beijing Olympics marathon, losing the bronze narrowly to compatriot Tsegaye Kebede.

The women’s race was more closely fought. Six to eight runners were bunched together for most of the race with Keitany heading it.

After eight kilometres, Keitany, Mergia and Aberu Kebede settled in the first three places with Hilda Kibet left behind in fourth place. Once the runners entered the stadium, the order changed decisively as Mergia overook Keitany with about 250 metres left.

The Ethiopian comfortably warded off Keitany’s comeback efforts in the sprint to the finish, picking up another top prize from Indian soil, having won the Delhi half-marathon last year. Keitany, in her first race after becoming a mother 11 months back, timed 32:09 for the silver while Kebede took the bronze in 32:11. Kibet came in fourth, clocking 32:22.

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