Asian Games berths on mind, Indian runners keen to secure qualification time

New Delhi, Feb 25 (PTI) Some of India’s premier long-distance runners will be keen to clock their best timings in the New Delhi Marathon on Sunday, knowing well that this is their best opportunity to secure berths for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China later this year.

Though last year’s best Indian runner Nitendra Rawat and T. Gopi are missing the Athletics Federation of India-sanctioned event this time around, India’s challenge will be led by the country’s highest-ranked marathon runner AB Belliappa and 31-year-old distance runner from Meghalaya, Anish Thapa, who clinched silver in the 2022 edition.

The two, along with the likes of Vikram Bangriya, Srinu Bugatha, Govindan Lakshmanan and Man Singh, will be keenly watched as they aim for the continental multi-discipline games, scheduled in September-October this year.

However, considering the Asian Games qualification time of 2:15:00, it will be an uphill task for the pack of Indian runners, given that only Srinu is the only one in the group to have breached the mark — in 2021.

Anish Thapa, who clocked 2:16:41 in the Delhi Marathon last year for a second-place finish, is aware of the enormity of the task, as he has to shave off 1:41 minutes to qualify for the Asian Games.

“Being a silver medallist last year, I’m definitely positive of running a good race, but let’s see how the (Asian Games) qualification goes,” said the 31-year-old Naib Subedar in the Indian Army, who trains at the Army Institute of Sports at Pune and does his high-altitude training in Ooty.

“With Nitendra not competing this time around, I have a good chance to go for the top position, but it’s tough to say whether I will be able to clock the Asian Games qualification time,” said Thapa, who has never competed abroad.

He was close to securing a berth in the Commonwealth Games-bound contingent but missed out to Nitendra Rawat, who finished 12th in Birmingham.

Belliappa, who like Thapa is an Army man, clocked 2:16:51 at the Valencia Marathon in December last year. Despite suffering cramps, he managed a personal best time. With the race scheduled for a 5:00 am start on Sunday, Belliappa could aim for the Asian Games qualification time in home environs.

Besides, Srinu (2:14.59 in 2021), Lakshmanan (10,000m and 5,000m Asian champion in 2017) and Man Singh (2:16.58 in 2023, Mumbai Marathon) will also be in hot pursuit for an Asian Games berths.

Gopi Thonakkal, who walked away with the top position in the Mumbai Marathon last month, is skipping the Delhi event and will look to secure the Asian Games berth by competing in South Korea next month.

A total of 16,000 runners will be competing in the New Delhi Marathon in four categories — full marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K.

Source: PTI News

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