News|Environment

The race was scaled back as the city experiences a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and dangerous air quality.

Some of the world’s leading long-distance runners have participated in a half-marathon in New Delhi as India’s capital grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases and air pollution that has recently been among the world’s worst.

More than 60 professional runners participated in the race on Sunday, while several hundred enthusiasts ran in other cities on routes of their choice, using a mobile app to post their race timings, said the event organisers.

The route was sprayed with chemicals to minimise the effect of the annual toxic smog that blankets the megacity in winter due to traffic and industrial pollution, crop stubble burning, and cold temperatures.

The air quality index – which monitors tiny PM2.5 and PM10 particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs – was at 244 and in the “poor” category, the Central Pollution Control Board said on Sunday.

Doctors last week said it would be “suicidal” for runners to take part in the competition given the twin risks.

Ethiopian athlete Amedework Walelegn, centre, gestures as he crosses the finish line to win the men’s 2020 Airtel Delhi half marathon in New Delhi on November 29, 2020 [Sajjad HUSSAIN/AFP]

Ethiopia’s Amdework Walelegn won the men’s race with a course record of 58.53 minutes with last year’s champion Andamlak Belihu just a second behind.

The previous best was 59.06 set by Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in 2014.

“The course was very good,” Walelegn said. “In earlier years there were a lot of U-turns, but this time it was flat and good to race on.”

Ethiopian athlete Yalemzerf Yehualaw runs towards the finish line to win the women’s 2020 Airtel Delhi half marathon in New Delhi on November 29, 2020 [Sajjad HUSSAIN/AFP] (AFP)

In the women’s race, Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia won in 1.04.46 – also a record – with Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich second.

Avinash Sable, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the 3,000-metre steeplechase, was the top Indian finisher with a record national time of 1:00.30.

The Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2020 “is a very significant moment for Indian sports since the pandemic began”, said Abhinav Bindra, brand ambassador for the event and India’s only individual Olympic gold medalist.

The event is a step towards resuming competitive sports in India and will be a benchmark for other sports to follow, he said.

The race also took place as thousands of farmers, riled by new agricultural laws, staged a third straight day of protests, blockading some arterial roads into the capital.