Ethiopian runners dominated the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K race in Kolkata, West Bengal, India on December 16 with Birhanu Legese and Dibaba Kuma taking top winning spots

By Dhiman Sarkar (Hindustan Times) |

In what emerged as a double for Ethiopia, Birhanu Legese and Dibaba Kuma braced glory in the Elite 25K men’s and women’s categories respectively, even as Avinash Sable and L Surya kept the Indian flag fluttering in the fifth edition of Tata Steel Kolkata 25K. The race also witnessed 14,734 people run on a nippy winter morning as Tata Steel Kolkata 25K celebrated Vijay Diwas on December 16.

It was a riot of sight, sound and colors at the TSK 25K with people across the board came to the starting line to make the celebration of Vijay Diwas truly meaningful. In each step there was pride, in each leap a faith of beaching a distance and every spring a promise of a healthy tomorrow.

And in their mix the elite athletes were playing an intriguing move on the chess board spread across the iconic locales of the city, as they ran a game of check and balance. Birhanu Legese, Bayelign Yegsaw, Kiptanui Kiptanui and Amos Kipruto kept a tight pack till the last hair pin at 20 Km mark.

Without pacemakers, a large group that included several of the Indian elite runners went through 5km in a relatively sedate 15:37 with Uganda’s Robert Chemonges and Tanzania’s Augustino Sulle doing most of the work at the front in the early stages of the race. The pace increased slightly over the next ext 5kms but a group of nine were still together as 10Km was reached in 30:35; and then slowed again as 15km was passed 45:57, allowing the leading group to increase to 11.

The next 5kms saw just three men shaken off with the 20km split reading 1:01:04. However, if the winning time was now never going to match Kenenisa Bekele’s course record of 1:13:48 from 12 months ago, it did ensure a thrilling finish and that’s what the thousands lining the route of the world’s only IAAF Label Road Race over 25km were able to witness.

With two km remaining, the two-time Airtel Delhi Half Marathon winner Birhanu Legese put in a surge which splintered the leading group. His teenage compatriot Bayelign Yegsaw was the only man to follow closely as the rest struggled to stay with the leading pair.

One-by-one the remaining runners dropped away before Birhanu Legese found another gear over the final 400 meters to fend off Yegsaw, who doesn’t turn 19 until next February and will possibly start as the favorite for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships U20 title next March.

Birhanu Legese finished first with a timing of 1:15:48, while fellow countrymen Bayelign Yegsaw finished with a timing of 1:15:49. In the third position was Kenyian Amos Kipruto clocking 1:15:52.

Of course the run fell way short of the world’s best set by Dennis Kimetto (1:11:18) in 2012 and course record set here last year by Kenenisa Bekele of 1:13:48.

Legese Birhanu said, “The race was very good. I am very happy as the weather was good and place to run was also good. I decided to change gears in the last one kilometer, in the last 500 meters I increased my pace and sealed the affair.”

Second spot winner Amos said: “Thank you for welcoming me in Tata Steel Kolkata 25K and I am so happy. The weather was good, the race was good. I had a feeling I will have a podium finish. I have used myself well to be on top three. This race success is giving me moral for Tokyo Marathon 2019. This race was my training before going to Tokyo.”

The women’s race was pretty even Stevens till the last lap with the Indian elites running toe to toe with their International competitors. In fact at the 10K mark Surya led the pack while in the 15K mark she was just behind the eventual winner Dibaba Kuma. However, in the last five kilometers the African runners showed their pedigree as distance runners switching gears and taking the pole position with relative ease.

In the elite women it was a shock surprise with defending champion Degitu Azimeraw coming a distant fourth. The race was won by Ethiopian Dibaba Kuma with a timing of 1:27:34, followed by her country mate Ftaw Zeray 1:27:38 and Failuna Matanga of Tanzania clocking 1:27:45.  Actually Degitu clocked a timing of 1:26:01 last year to set a course record, but was 1:50 min slower this time round.

Dibaba said, “I am very happy with this win. After running a marathon in October I took rest for one week and then I practiced, came here and won this race.”

The Elite International athletes go home richer by USD 7,500 each, while the elite Indian winners pocket a purse of Rs 2,75,000 each.

Continue reading this story at Tata Steel Kolkata 25K
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