Recently crowned Asian champion Gopi Thonakal and fellow Army long distance runner Nitendra Singh Rawat, the course record holder among Indians, are the star attractions among the home country's male runners in the Tata Mumbai Marathon to be held on January 21.
Gopi, from Army Sports Institute of Pune, will go into the gruelling run on Mumbai's streets in the 15th edition of the marathon with his confidence high after becoming the first-ever male runner from the country to clinch the Asian marathon title in Dongguan in China on November 26, clocking 2 hours, 15 minutes and 48 seconds.
Rawat, from the Kumaon Regiment, is expected to give him a run for his money after his feat as the best Indian finisher in the Delhi half marathon, and his performance as the top Indian finisher here in 2016.
Both had also taken part in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games with Gopi ending up a creditable 25th in 2 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds while a hamstring injury affected Rawat's performance as he finished a distant 84th.
Their head-to-head rivalry, similar to what was experienced in 2016 when Rawat was the top Indian finisher in 2:25:48 just ahead of Gopi, is expected to be among the highlights of the USD 405,000 event to be title-sponsored by the Tata Group for the first time.
"We are happy to be the title sponsors of the Mumbai Marathon as it's the first big event for us in 2018 which marks 150 years of the Tata Group," said Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian of the Group's flagship, Tata Sons, at a media conference here today.
Guangzhou Asian Games (2010) steeplechase gold medal winner Sudha Singh is the top draw among the Indian women. She will have to contend with the challenge from L Suriya, the fastest Indian woman and course record holder of the Airtel Delhi half marathon and Tata Steel Kolkata 25K events, among others.
South Africa's Olympian Hendrick Ramaala, the 2004 men's winner, has been roped in as the pacemaker of the Indian contingent.
The elite list of foreign runners has already been announced by event promoters, Procam International.
The men's elite field has 2017 Tokyo Marathon runner-up Solomon Deksisa of Ethiopia and last year's Mumbai Marathon runner-up Joshua Kipkorir, among others.
The corresponding women's field will see last year's winner Bornes Kitur of Kenya defending her title.
The start and finish route of the race is expected to see a small change because of the under-construction work for the Mumbai Metro on the D N Road stretch from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Hutatma Chowk (Flora Fountain), informed Joint MD of Procam, Vivek Singh.
"We are working with the government authorities on how best to tweak the route at the start and finish of the race," said Singh to a question.
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