Our Guest Columnist, Pramod Deshpande writes about some of the Elite Athletes who ran the iconic Tata Mumbai Marathon.
The “Maha Kumbha” of running in India, the “Tata Mumbai Marathon” (TMM) is just round the corner. Any endurance runner in India, amateur or elite, always dreams of participating in the Mumbai Marathon at least once in life and many make it their yearly pilgrimage.
The iconic status of this event has multiple reasons to its credit – the legendary support and encouragement runners get from the Mumbaikars, the magnitude of the event itself, the meticulous planning and execution of the event by the organizers and it is also the qualifying event for major events like Olympics, as it is IAAF Road Race Gold Label certified and therefore attracts great running talent.
However, majority of us are not aware of the great athletes who have participated in the event over the years, even the amateur runners who share the space with these great athletes are oblivious to them. I take this opportunity to write about some of the great athletes and their back stories who have participated in the TMM (in no particular order!).
The running standards followed by the TMM are a close match to that of the major global marathon standards. For example, the biggest marathon in the world is the New York Marathon and the course record in the Men’s category stands at 2:05:05 whereas in Mumbai it is 2:08:35. The same holds good in the Women’s category with the course record standing at 2:22:31 in New York and 2:24:33 in Mumbai. Incidentally both these Marathons are sponsored by The Tata group!
With respect to the Indian context, this event has provided a major platform to enhance the standards of marathon running in India. In 2012, the Indian runners managed an unprecedented feat wherein Ram Singh Yadav qualified for London Olympics and in 2016 for the Rio Olympics. In total we had 6 runners breach the qualification mark for Rio Olympics at the TMM event. This included 3 male athletes- Nitendra Singh Rawat, Gopi Thonakal and Kheta Ram and 3 female athletes – O.P. Jaisha, Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh. Just to put things in perspective, the only Indian who qualified for the Olympic Marathon prior to 2012 was the great Shivnath Singh in 1976.
With every edition, Mumbai Marathon has attracted the best international talent right from it’s inception.
In the second edition of the event, we saw Christopher Isegwe who secured the second place went on to win a silver medal in the IAAF World Championships at Helsinki the same year.
The first women to break the 2 hours 30 minutes barrier, Mulu Seboka of Ethiopia has been the most successful women athlete in the Mumbai Marathon winning the race in 2005, 2006 and in 2008. Her illustrious carrier spanned around 12 years, during which she won more than 30 Marathons and half marathons worldwide.
In the 2009 edition, we saw two great runners take the podium – the winner, Kenneth Mburu Mungara(2:11:51), a great runner who over a decade from 2007 to 2018 has won 17 Marathons across the globe and a hat trick at the Gold Coast Marathon with a PB of 2:07:57. Then there’s John Ekiru Kelai who came third that year but by that time he was the most successful male athlete at Mumbai winning two editions back to back (2007 and 2008). He has achieved 10 podiums across various countries. India is a happy hunting ground for him as he became the Commonwealth champion during the Delhi commonwealth games in 2010.
Dinknesh Mekash is another great marathoner, who has won many marathons across the globe and started her Mumbai chapter by securing the second spot in 2013 and also won two titles in the year 2014 and 2015.
The Mumbai Marathon has had its fair share of maverick runners as well. Evans Rutto of Kenya, is one of them, as his entry into the marathon circuit was quite sensational. In 2003, as a debut runner he won the Chicago Marathon and established the fastest debut world record title by finishing the race in 2:05:50, which remained unbroken until 2017. He went on to win the London Marathon and Chicago Marathon for the second time. Unfortunately in 2005-06, an injury threatened his running career but he bounced back in 2014 with a fast race at the Mumbai Marathon missing the course record by just 1 sec.
Another remarkable female runner, Judit Földing-Nagy of Hungary , stood second at the inaugural edition of the event. She continued running into her latter years as an Ultra-marathoner and at the age of 48 in 2012 secured the 3rd place in the 100 km European Championship and 6th place at the 100 km World Championship in Seregno, Italy.
The Mumbai Marathon has participation and winners from across many countries and like any other marathon world-wide, it was no exception with East African runners dominating the running scene. Interestingly at the Women’s race in the 2011 edition, we had the Ethiopian runners bag the first 12 positions excluding the 8th position which was bagged by a Kenyan runner.
The story of Indian runners at the Mumbai Marathon has also been quite impressive. From the first edition in 2004, the Indian male athletes have been striving hard to achieve their best results and have improved by a whopping 11 minutes with Nitendra Singh Rawat leading the pack with a timing of 02:15:48. The women have surpassed the men by 22 minutes with O.P. Jaisha topping the list with a timing of 02:37:29.
The most decorated Indian male runner at the Mumbai Marathon is Binning Lyngkhoi who achieved the first position in the Men’s category in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and a third place in 2014. Among the women athletes, Lalita Babar has been the dominant player at the Mumbai Marathon for years and the fastest among Indian runners in 2013, 2014 and came second in 2015 and 2016. Despite her success in the marathon, she was determined to win a medal across multi-disciplinary events at the Asian Games, Commonwealth and Olympics and switched quite successfully to 3000 meters steeplechase by winning a silver medal at the 2014 Asian Games and a Gold medal at the Asian Championships by setting a record at the Asian and Commonwealth games. She became the first Indian woman to qualify for the steeplechase final at the 2015 World Championship and also became the first Indian in 32 years to enter a final in any track event at the Rio Olympics.
Besides her, other women athletes like Sudha Singh, O.P. Jaisha, Kavita Raut have dominated this event and have also put India on the global map at various international events.
The trio of Nitendra Singh Rawat, Gopi T and Kheta Ram who qualified for the Rio Olympics at the 2016 edition of the Mumbai Marathon, have been interchanging the podium spots between them for the last 3 years. At the Rio Olympics, they have managed to achieve quite respectable positions- 24th and 25th respectively.
It’s unfortunate, that I could cover only some of the champion runners of Mumbai Marathons but I’ll save the rest for another time.
With such a great event in place, I have no doubt that the organizers will have no problem attracting great talent from across the globe.