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Posted: January 21, 2007

Athletics: Double victory for Greatest Race on Earth athletes in Mumbai Marathon

21 January 2007, Mumbai - Standard Chartered Greatest Race on Earth (GROE) athletes John Kelai and Yang Feng Xia came home first today in the men's and women's Mumbai Marathon respectively. Their victories will give hope to their teams in this unique marathon relay series, as Kelai's team Team Gowar and Yang's Team China were only 16th and 4th in their respective competitions going into this third leg.

GROE is a team relay of four challenging marathons in Nairobi, Singapore, Mumbai and Hong Kong. It has the largest prize pool of any event in world athletics, of US$1.5 million.

A mere 18 years old, and having run just two marathons in the past, both in her homeland China, Yang entered the marathon as a relative unknown. Her winning time of 2:36:16 placed her ahead of the likes of distance running legend Tegla Loroupe and race favourite Leila Amman, and reduces the gap to the third-placed team in the Women's Team Challenge, Grazy Girls, from 28 to 19 minutes.

Yang said: "I just felt really strong and when I caught the leaders up at 38 kilometres, I knew I was going to win. Our team position after the second marathon in Singapore wasn't as good as we'd expected so the pressure was on me to produce a good performance, and that kept me going." Loroupe clocked 2:42:52 to push her team Run for Peace up one place to second, whilst Cyclone remain first nearly 18 minutes ahead of the chasing pack after a 2:38:13 run by Jennifer Chesinon .

Kelai's winning time of 2:12:27 improved Team Gowar's position in the Main Team Challenge by an astonishing ten places, leaving them now in sixth and just one place below a prize-winning spot. Kelai, from Kenya, beat off strong competition from pre-race favourite Melese Asfaw Gashaw who was running for team Akaki. The Ethiopian finished just five seconds behind Kelai and in doing so elevated his team four places to 3rd place overall. Still leading the race for the first place prize of US$400,000 is Marathon Centre Kericho, after Robert Kipyego clocked 2:14:59. They are now just 44 seconds ahead of Kericho in overall second place, for whom last year's Mumbai Marathon winner Stanley Leleito and current course record holder ran a time of 2:14:22.

The 2006/07 GROE Series sees participation from over 30 countries, the focus of which is the Nations Challenge. This looks set for an exciting finale in the last leg in Hong Kong, with the top three teams just four minutes apart. Now leading the race for the coveted Gold Baton trophy and the US$50,000 top prize are reigning champions Kenya. A spirited run of 2:15:08 by their runner Vincent Kiplagat Kiptoo puts them ahead of Zimbabwe in second and previous leaders Uganda.

There are also six regional competitions within the Nations Challenge. With just one more leg remaining, Sri Lanka have overtaken India in the South Asia section, with Asela Bandara running 2:23:13 to overcome home favourite Nathuram by a margin of five minutes.

As leader of the overall Nations Challenge, Kenya of course head the Africa section. Indonesia have extended their lead over Thailand to more than 16 minutes in South East Asia, whilst South Korea have cut Taiwan's advantage to 13 minutes in North East Asia. In Europe & Oceania, Australia are still in front but have seen their lead over Denmark more than halved to five minutes, and in the Americas Argentina have cut the deficit to Mexico to under 20 minutes.

The field of elite athletes and emerging talent sped away from the start-line at 7.40am from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a World Heritage Site, all taking on Mumbai's heat. In another increase on last year's turn-out, it was estimated that over 27,000 runners participated in the event.

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