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Posted: January 18, 2007

Athletics: Mumbai set to stage marathon teams’ latest battle

Ajeet Singh, a member of the Indian national team, trains in the countryside outside Mumbai

The third leg of The Greatest Race on Earth, the world’s only marathon team relay race, will be crucial in determining the winners of the record $1.5 million prize pool

18 January 2007, Mumbai – The third leg of the Standard Chartered Greatest Race on Earth (GROE) 2006/07, the Mumbai Marathon, is set to take place on 21 January, with another fine line-up of world class athletes. After the first two stages in Nairobi and Singapore, the teams currently at the top will be looking to their third leg runner to extend their advantage over the chasing pack. With half the series already completed, the pressure is on the athletes to record a quick time for their team in an effort to win a share of the US$1.5 million prize pool, the highest in world athletics.

GROE is a relay of four marathons in the cities of Nairobi, Singapore, Mumbai and Hong Kong, and sees athletes take on some of the world's most difficult running conditions - including altitude, heat, humidity and punishing inclines. Athletes compete in teams of four, running one marathon each, working together to strive for the fastest cumulative time. The series sees over 30 countries compete in what is becoming the ‘World Cup of Marathons’.

In what has proved to be a particularly close series so far, there are less than five minutes covering the top eight teams in the Main Team Challenge. Currently in first place in the race for the US$400,000 top prize is Marathon Centre Kericho, with a combined time so far of 4:35:55, just 53 seconds ahead of Posso Nyahururu.

There will be five athletes in the GROE line-up in Mumbai who have clocked under 2 hours 10 minutes in their careers, all of whom will be looking to push their teams into the top five prize-winning positions. The fastest in the field is Ethiopian Gashaw Melese Asfaw, running for seventh-placed team Akaki, who recorded his personal best of 2:08:03 in winning the Paris Marathon last year.

Asfaw said: “Winning in Paris was reward for all the all the hard work and sacrifice I put into preparing for marathons. Looking at some of the great athletes who have already competed this year in GROE and their results, it makes me proud, but also determined to do well. All the teams are still in the hunt, so of course this will help push me to achieve a good time and result.”

Another winner in Europe last year was Kenyan Mandago David Kipkorir. He ran a personal best of 2:08:38 to win the Rome Marathon, and most recently managed a second place when he competed in Beijing in October. Kipkorir will be competing for the second year running in Mumbai for his team Rosa e Associati 2, and will be hoping to go one better than the second place he achieved last year. On participating in GROE again, he said:

“It is a pleasure for me to be part, together with my friends, of this emotional group of races. I will try my best to run to my full potential in this marathon, not only for me but for all the team. Running in a team requires a sense of responsibility. You have not only to think about your own result, but to think about the group.”

The strength of the all-women teams competing in the GROE Women’s Challenge has also been in strong evidence so far, with GROE runners filling the top three places in both the Nairobi and Singapore Marathons. The Cyclone team have a significant advantage over the chasing teams, with their two athletes so far having smashed the course records in both marathons. Jennifer Chesinon will take the baton on for them in Mumbai and hope to extend their current lead of nine minutes over second-placed Grazy Girls.

Chesinon commented: “I have been training specifically for this race for some time now and am on my way to peaking for Mumbai. I want to make the podium there, but the most important thing is for my team to win. I enjoy running for a team as it is a new experience, and change can also bring new motivation.”

A specially-commissioned Gold Baton trophy – a 9 carat, 300 gram, solid gold relay baton – awaits the winners of the Nations Challenge, which has become a breeding ground for young marathon talent around the world. Currently in the lead are Uganda, who will be represented in Mumbai for the second successive year by Alex Malinga. Last year he finished eighth in the overall marathon, which followed an impressive sixth place in the 2005 World Championships Marathon in Helsinki in a personal best time of 2:12:12.

Malinga said: “We train together as a team and try to encourage each other, pacing various options to create a competition-like environment. I have taken part twice before in GROE and I believe the main attribute needed is a high level of team-spirit. This is very important to achieving your goals.”

Reigning champions Kenya are in second place, having halved Uganda’s lead to two minutes in Singapore. Just half a minute behind, and completing the African top three in the GROE Nations Challenge, are Zimbabwe. They will be represented by Michael Ngaseke, who achieved his personal best time of 2:12:53 in the 2004 Berlin Marathon. Ngaseke is set on improving his time in Mumbai last year of 2:16:10, when he finished seventh.

He said: “I am very pleased to be part of GROE as it gives me the opportunity to represent my country, be part of a team and win substantial prize money. My team-mates and I have been communicating with each other to encourage each other, and I feel the pressure to not let them down. I am hoping to enhance my chances of competing in the 2007 All Africa Games and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.”

In fifth place in the Nations Challenge are home team India, just a minute ahead of local rivals Sri Lanka. Running for India in Mumbai will be Nathuram, who set his personal best of 2:24:43 in this marathon last year.

He said: “It was always my childhood dream to be the best in running in India. In my youth, we would always be running around to catch our field animals on the family farm! Ever since, I have strived to be first in everything I do, my running included. GROE is the world’s best marathon relay and features some of the world’s top athletes. We all train together as a team, support one another and we are very dedicated. Working together helps each of us to build on our personal strengths and improve on our weaknesses.”

There are six regional competitions within the Nations Challenge, each of which has its own separate prize pool. Defending their leads heading into the Mumbai Marathon will be: Indonesia in South East Asia; Taiwan in North East Asia; Mexico in the Americas; Australia in Europe & Oceania; and Uganda and India in Africa and South Asia respectively.

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