Pune, Nov 26 (UNI) Abebe Mekonnen will spearhead the Ethiopia challenge, comprising a 24-member squad of 20 men and four women, in the 22nd Pune International Marathon here on December 2.
Mekonnen, who has been the flag bearer of Ethiopia after Abebe Bikila, had won the gruelling Boston Marathon in 1989.
The 24-member Ethiopian squad will be arriving here on Thursday.
Kenya too is coming with a big squad and the team is expected to arrive here tomorrow.
Mekonnen, who had participated in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and later in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, has a total of 32 international marathons to his credit. His best time for the full marathon stands at 2:15. The Ethiopian, however, had clocked 2:7:25 at the Beijing event in 1988.
Pune International Marathon Trust (PIMT) secretary general Pralhad Sawant, who is also the joint secretary of the Athletic Federation of India (AFI), said the other strong contender Abebe Siyoum, who claimed the bronze medal last year in the Pune event clocking 2:20:17, has the best time of 2:12:23 to his credit.
The other athletes are more or less in the same bracket namely Gemechu Kebede (2:10 :45), Abrha Gebremedhn Hadgu (2:11), Rashid Hamza Beshir (2:12), Asfaw Dadi Tufa, Halemariam Mola Negas, Girima Alebachew, Mhertuand Luelseged and Weldemariam Boshera -- all come under the 2:13 time slot.
In the women's section for the half marathon, Megessa Kurri stands the best chance having the best time of 1:11:23 to her credit. If she produces the same form, Kurri will be able to erase last year's course record of 1:13:20 standing in the name of Hellen Nzembi Musyoka of Kenya. Her country-mate Almaz Makuria, whose best time stands at 1:12:45, is also a strong contender.