Pune, Nov 30 (UNI) The arrival of the 14-member Ethiopian squad today certainly makes the competition fierce in the Vodafone 22nd Pune International marathon to be flagged off here on December 2.
For the first time in its 22-year old history, the Pune event, supposed to be the oldest and offering a total prize money of Rs 25 lakhs, has attracted a crack 24-member team from Kenya besides a two member team from Tanzania and a solitary entry from Nepal.
The Pune International Marathon Trust (PIMT) Secretary General Pralhad Sawant stated in a press note circulated here today that since the Athletic Federation of India (AFI) has given the event national statu,s the Indian contingent have already set their sight on the qualifying mark of 2:18 set for the Beijing Olympics.
Presently, Pune, offering condusive climatic conditions with the mercury dipping as low as ten degree Celsius, has assembled a very challenging field, the press note added.
The Service Sports Control Board (SSCB) team attached to the Army Sports Institute (AS) in Ghorpadi has been training for the event for the last six month and is expected to give the run for the money's worth to the best. Besides, athletes from the Railway Promotion Board and also from All India Police Boards and other institutions are also in the fray since the event was billed as a national marathon.
But if one has to take the Kenyan coach Paul Mutwii seriously there will be a new record on the horizon. After arriving here yesterday and gaving practice sessions late last evening and this morning at the nearby Deccan Gymkhana ground, Mr Mutwii said that the weather conditions are fine and his three past winners, Ambrose (2002), Douglas Guandaru (2004)and Josephat Ndeti (2005) are expected to go all out in to script a new record.
Former Boston marathon champ, 42-year old Abebe Mekonnen, the most experienced and weather hardened long distance athlete, having participated in over 100 marathons, arrived here this morning with four of his national prospects. He expressed optimism that his team of two men and two women who are in the fray will put up a brave fight despite the stiff challenge posed by the Kenyans and the Tanzanians.
''I do not know how many foreign athletes would be in the fray but hopefully if all goes well they will come out with flying colours,'' Mekonnen observed.
When asked of his personal participation, Mekonnen, who is in charge of coaching the national Ethiopian team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said that his age is advancing and he is not in prime condition but he may take part in the token run to boost the morale of his team.