TATA Marathon: On Your Mark, Mumbai

Mumbai: So, it can be safely surmised that it will be the Ethiopians and Kenyans who will sign off with a flourish at the 17th edition of the Tata Mumbai Mararthon which will be flagged off here on Sunday at 7.20am.

Kenya’s Cosmas Lagat hopes to be the second man to win the event for the second successive time. In 2007 and 2008, his compatriot, Jon Kelai, had won the title back-to-back and Lagat believes he has the ability to defend his title.

Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero, who finished second in the Hamburg Marathon last year, too, looks in good shape.

Defending her title, Worknesh Alemu and her compatriot Amane Beriso of Ethiopia will be the flagbearers in the women’s elite full marathon.

The Indian challenge in this edition will be spearheaded by Armyman Bugatha Srinivas and Sudha Singh in the men's and women's section respectively.

For Singh, this race holds fond memories, as she has won it thrice (2016, 2018, 2019) and is now gunning for a hat-trick. “I have won this race thrice and but want to make it three-in-a-row and that is my goal," she said, on the eve of the race.

“The weather is good and that will help everyone put their best foot forward,” said Singh, hoping that she could improve her chances of making the cut for Tokyo.

However, Singh will have to reckon with Jyoti Gawte, the former champion, who is also in the fray this year. “Everyone wants to win and it depends on the day of the race. I would count myself a winner, but it all hangs by my ability and positivity,” said Jyoti.

Life has not been easy for Gawte. Even though she is a winner on the field, her story is far from perfect. After winning the first marathon in 2011, she thought her financial situation would improve as she would get a steady job. But nothing came her way then or afterwards. Until 2015, she lived with her family in a humble abode in Gadchiroli.

This silent speedster could turn the tables on defending champion Singh. Financial constraints did not dampen her enthusiasm and she had won in 2017.

The cool Mumbai weather should be a feel-good factor for runners and records could fall by the wayside.

Srinivas Bugatha, an inmate of the Army Sports Institute, Pune, is the best bet in the men’s challenge. With the Airtel Delhi Half-Marathon and the Tata Steel Kolkata 25K 2019 editions under his belt, Srinu, as he is fondly called in athletic circles, should bag the title.

The elite Indian runners will have support to boost their timing, as the organisers have provided them with pace-setters, every ten kilometres of the way, a first for this edition of the marathon.

"That will help us keep good time,” said Bugatha. His challengers include Rashpal Singh, silver medallist in the 2019 Kathmandu South Asian Games, along with Rahul Pal, winner of the 2019 Pune International Marathon.

In the men's half-marathon category, Avinash Sable, the 3,000-metre steeplechase national record-holder, will lead the field along with Shankar Man Thapa, the runner-up in 2019.

Sable shattered his own national record at the World Championships in Doha and qualified for the Tokyo 2020.

In the women's half-marathon, veteran athlete Swati Gadhave will face stiff competition from the 2019 runner-up and winner of the 2018 edition, Monica Athare.

National record, ANYONE?

The talk is all about the course and the personal records at stake, but what is conveniently forgotten is the 44-year-old record set by a bare-footed runner, veteran Shivnath Singh in Jallandhar, who clocked in at 2:12.00. This 1978 record still remains to be bettered.

Shivnath was one of the few great long-distance sprinters India has produced. “It is sad, but it is the truth is that everyone wants to just win the race, no one is looking further,” according to a pundit of athletics, who spoke to FPJ.

“The present athletes do not think big. That is one of the reasons we (athletes) think only about qualifying for the Summer Games, not winning medals. We are giving into negativity and that is the reason,” said Vikrant Mahajan, the motivator of all Tokyo-bound Indian athletes. He is of the opinion that for the athletes in the country, it is Bugatha who could be the harbinger of change.

...THE UNUSUAL LOT

THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED

A marjeet Singh Chawla, a 64-year-old marathoner, is all set to achieve his target of completing 125th Half Marathon. He was sighted till age 13 and started losing the vision gradually and attained the condition of total blindness at the age of 40. He started running since the age of 49, Singh has been participating in Mumbai marathon right since its inception in 2004. Due to his visual impairment, he will have a friend running alongside him as a guide.

BROTHERS IN ARM

Madhav Nene, 91-year old runner,and his brother Vasant Nene, 88-year-old to run the senior citizen category in Tata Mumbai Marathon this year. Both were members of a running team named Ashok Tower Parel. Madhav finished his last marathon in 40mins under the senior citizen category run.

OFFICER ON RUN

Tushar Patil, a 42-year-old GRP police is set to run 21km run (half marathon). In his younger years, he was a sports enthusiast. Along with participating in various sports, he has also successfully completed a 12.5 cross country event at Mumbai University between the years 1996-1999. He gave up on fitness after he joined SI training and took up a railway job. His tight work schedule and unhealthy eating made him put on weight would not let him tie his shoelaces. But today, he is fit, fine, and ready to run.

Also Read: Mumbai Marathon 2020: Sudha Singh looks forward to completing her hat-trick