AT A GLANCE / MAY 2019

Eliud Kipchoge (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Kipchoge to attempt sub-2 marathon again

On Tuesday (May 7) the media reported that plans are afoot in the UK for an event in which Kenya’s world record holder Eliud Kipchoge will once again attempt breaking the two hour-barrier in the marathon.

This is the second project in the past few years showcasing such an attempt.

Over 2016-2017, Kipchoge was part of Breaking 2, a project sponsored by Nike to run a marathon in under two hours. That run at a Formula One track in Italy saw Kipchoge cover the distance in a time of two hours, 25 seconds (2:00:25), significantly faster than the then prevailing world record. However given the nature and structure of the race, it wasn’t officially recognized as new world record. Breaking 2 had featured three elite runners – Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea – and pacers (30 of the world’s best runners) to keep them on track for targeted timing. The current world record (2:01:39), recognized by International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was set later by Kipchoge at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

According to media reports, the latest attempt at sub two hour-marathon is funded by Jim Ratcliffe, the wealthiest man in Britain and chairman of chemicals company, Ineos.

The project has been christened Ineos 1:59 Challenge.

Triumph and tragedy at altitude

Kami Rita Sherpa, 49, has climbed Everest for the twenty third time setting a new world record for the most number of successful ascents of the peak by an individual. He achieved the mark in mid-May 2019. The Nepali climber was bettering his own record. In 2017, according to media reports, he had tied with Apa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi at 21 successful ascents achieved. In 2018, he notched up one more to be in a league of his own. Reports said Kami Rita Sherpa has been climbing Everest since 1994.

Pune based-mountaineering club, Giripremi, saw its expedition to Kanchenjunga plant ten climbers on the summit. According to news reports in mid-May, the successful ascent of Kanchenjunga marks seven of the world’s fourteen 8000m peaks climbed by the club. On the other hand, two Indian climbers died on the same peak. Biplab Baidya was on his way down from the summit when he passed away due to high altitude sickness. Kuntal Karar fell sick while attempting to ascend the peak, media reports said. Both passed away at elevation above Camp IV. They were from Kolkata; part of a team from that city. Of the world’s fourteen 8000m peaks, Kanchenjunga – it is India’s highest peak and the world’s third highest – is among the more difficult. Indians died this May on Everest and Makalu too. Weeks after an Indian Army team claimed to have seen footprints of the yeti (there is no credible proof of its existence) on the slopes of Makalu, it lost one of its climbers – Naik Narayan Singh. Media reports said, he died on the descent from Makalu’s summit. On the same peak, Dipankar Ghosh, an experienced Indian mountaineer, was reported missing on the way back from the summit. Reports of the incident published on Saturday (May 18) said that Ghosh hadn’t reached Camp IV as of Thursday night. Same day, the media reported that Ravi Thakur, resident of Gurugram, had passed away at Camp IV on Everest. This summary of news reports from the Himalaya is as of May 18.

From 2018 Mumbai Ultra

2019 Mumbai Ultra: registration opens soon, timing chip introduced

The 2019 edition of Mumbai Ultra, the city’s original 12 hour-run, will open for registration in a couple of days, the organizers informed on Tuesday, May 7.

The bulk of the registrations will be done online through You Too Can Run. Entrants will have to submit proof of having run a marathon or any distance longer than that, before. A small number of entries would be permitted through the traditional offline route, Navin Hegde, one of the organizers, said.

From 2018 Mumbai Ultra

From 2018 Mumbai Ultra

Participants will have to make a minimum donation of Rs 1500 towards treatment of pediatric cancer patients. Donors will get 80G certificates.

For the first time since the event commenced in 2014, timing chips will be used this year. The purpose of having the chip is to make the recording of distance covered and time taken, more accurate.

“ This is to bring the event to a professional level,” Navin said, adding, “ for us every finisher is a winner.” One advantage in having properly recorded time and distance is that it can be submitted as part of runner’s resume at other races.

This year, the 12-kilometre loop used for Mumbai Ultra – from Shivaji Park to Worli Sea Face and back in central Mumbai – may be shortened because of the Coastal Road Project that has made portions it off limits. “ We will decide on the exact distance of the loop closer to the event,” Naveen said.

Ever since it started as an annual event, the Mumbai Ultra has been a popular outing for the city’s runners. Besides registered participants, several others turn up to pace their friends and run alongside. They join in at various points of the event’s 12 hour-duration. In 2014, when the Mumbai Ultra made its debut, approximately 150 runners registered to participate. By 2018, registrations were up to around 400. “ This year we are looking to have around 500,” Navin said.

(All the photos used in this report on 2019 Mumbai Ultra were downloaded from the event’s Facebook page.)

Athlete fails dope test, question mark on Asian medal

On May 22, the media reported that Gomathi Marimuthu who won gold in 800m at the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships in Doha in April, had failed two dope tests.

Reports said that she failed a dope test at the Doha event. She tested positive for a banned steroid. The same reports also said that it has now emerged she failed a dope test at the Federation Cup held in Patiala in March. According to these reports, the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) was slow to communicate the test result from Federation Cup. Had that result been disclosed earlier, the athlete wouldn’t have been in the squad to Doha.

Adille Sumariwala, president, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) confirmed to the media that Gomathi has been provisionally suspended. She can ask for her B sample to be tested.  Should she fail that too, she faces a four year-ban.

The development puts a question mark on her gold medal at the Asian Championships.

Dr Hitendra Mahajan (left) and Dr Mahendra Mahajan (Photo: courtesy Mahendra Mahajan)

Mahajan brothers: countdown to Everest

Nashik based-cyclists and adventurers, Dr Hitendra Mahajan and Dr Mahendra Mahajan, are nearing the final phase of their Sea to Sky expedition, which entails cycling from Mumbai to Kathmandu and then climbing Mount Everest.

On Monday (May 6, 2019) the brothers were in Debouche, resting and recovering from trips to high camps on Everest before returning to the peak for their summit bid. The highest they got to as yet was Camp 3 (around 23,000 feet). “ We are both fine,’’ Dr Mahendra Mahajan told this blog over phone.

The brothers have been in the Everest region for the past few weeks. Earlier, they had commenced their bicycle ride from Mumbai on March 31. They cycled in relay pattern, taking turns to be on the road. A reason for this was that their expedition also included work towards spreading awareness about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). While one brother cycled, the other went ahead to the next scheduled location for CPR workshop and set things up. Between Mumbai and Kathmandu, they did 15 such workshops in all including three in Nepal. Pune based-Force Motors, which has sponsored this expedition and has been a steady supporter of the brothers’ projects, provided two utility vehicles. “ We are grateful to them for the assistance,’’ Mahendra said. The brothers covered the distance from Mumbai to Kathmandu in about a week. They reached the Nepali capital on April 7. With the cycling phase over, the vehicles, support staff and bicycles returned to India.

A day after reaching Kathmandu, the brothers took the flight to Lukla. According to Mahendra, their Everest attempt is as part of a team managed by Kathmandu-based Pioneer Adventure. The team includes Everest aspirants from India, Pakistan, USA and Singapore. They commenced their walk-in to Everest Base Camp (EBC) from Lukla. Along the way, they climbed Island Peak (20,305 feet). After the walk-in and the trips up Everest (highest point reached yet being Camp 3) they descended to Debouche set amid green surroundings at lower altitude to rest and recover.

They were scheduled to spend three days in Debouche. The exact dates of summit bid upon return to Everest depended on weather conditions. “ Camp 2 was very windy,’’ Mahendra recalled. He felt that their summit window should probably be somewhere in the ten days following May 12. “ Both of us plan to attempt the summit,’’ he said.

In 2015, the Mahajan brothers had gathered much attention as the first Indians to complete the 4800km-long Race Across America (RAAM), a punishing cycle race from the west coast of the US to the east. In 2016, they completed a 6000km-ride along India’s highway system called the Golden Quadrilateral. Sea to Sky is their first major project mixing cycling and mountaineering.

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of IAAF and is being used here for representation purpose.

Caster Semenya wins at Doha Diamond League / WMA expresses disapproval of IAAF policy

Two days after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) upheld the policy of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) with regard to athletes having differences in sexual development (DSD), Caster Semenya, the South African athlete at the center of it all, won the women’s 800m competition at the 2019 Diamond League in Doha, Qatar.

The IAAF policy is set to take effect from May 8, 2019. The Doha Diamond League event happened on May 3. Running with flawless technique and strategy, Semenya won by a comfortable margin and in her trademark style – composed and showing little sign of having been stretched by competition. She finished in one minute 54.98 seconds. It was her 30th consecutive victory in the discipline. Many believe the 800m competition in Doha may be Semenya’s last run in that discipline as the IAAF policy applies to distances spanning 400m to a mile. While her future course of action is yet to be disclosed Semenya told reporters after the Doha event that she does not intend to take medication to lower testosterone level (as required by IAAF policy) and has no plans to retire following the Cas ruling.

Early morning, May 4, the video of the Doha run – credited to IAAF Diamond League – was available on YouTube. The commentary tracking the athletes’ two laps said it all: (Lap 1) Well they are off and running. We could be watching a little bit of history here. Caster Semenya who has been so, so dominant over the last three to four years just slipped into Doha late on Wednesday evening; caught people by surprise. (Lap 2) Look at that silky smooth, serene style from Caster Semenya, into the home stretch, Semenya on her way to a third year victory here, my word – is there any end to her talent and she is just running away! Is this as some people have suggested, something of an act of defiance given what’s been going on? Look at the clock – 1:54:99; just outside the time of Paris last year but its very, very quick indeed. Very business-like, unemotional. They say that actions are much better than words and I think Caster Semenya expresses that perfectly. She has said very little apart from a few Tweets on social media in the last few days. Once again, she has delivered on the big stage. It has been rounded down – 1:54:98. 

WMA’s view:

Meanwhile the World Medical Association (WMA) has expressed disagreement with the IAAF policy. In a statement posted on its website on May 2, 2019, WMA said: The World Medical Association has reiterated its advice to physicians around the world to take no part in implementing new eligibility regulations for classifying female athletes. It follows today’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport supporting IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) regulations requiring women athletes with specific differences in sex development to medically reduce their natural blood testosterone. WMA President Dr. Leonid Eidelman said: ‘We have strong reservations about the ethical validity of these regulations. They are based on weak evidence from a single study, which is currently being widely debated by the scientific community. They are also contrary to a number of key WMA ethical statements and declarations, and as such we are calling for their immediate withdrawal’.

For an overview of the Caster Semenya story, please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/05/01/caster-semenya-loses-her-case-against-iaaf/

Appeal in the offing?

On May 14, the international media reported that South Africa’s sports ministry confirmed that the country’s track and field federation – Athletics South Africa (ASA) – will appeal against the ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in the Caster Semenya case. ASA was part of the original litigation that saw the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) being challenged for its regulations around testosterone levels in competitions for women in sports. According to international media reports, both ASA and Semenya’s lawyers declined comment on the matter of appeal even as a spokesman for South Africa’s sports ministry said a decision to appeal had been made.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)