It was yet another day of dominance for Ethiopian athletes at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon as little known Lemi Berhanu Hayle and the sublime Aselefech Mergia swept the board in the world’s richest marathon.
Just 20 years old, Berhanu left some of the biggest names in long distance running trailing and in warm weather conditions clocked a world leading time of 2:05:28 to win by 24 seconds from 2013 Dubai and Boston champion Lelisa Desisa. Deribe Robi completed an-all Ethiopian podium with a time of 2:06:06. Ethiopia’s superstar Kenenisa Bekele dropped out beyond the 30km mark, appearing to suffer from a leg injury.
In the women’s field, Aselefech Mergia celebrated her 30th birthday in style with a perfect comeback, winning the most thrilling finish in the history of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.
The Ethiopian, who had taken time off competition to have a baby, returned to the marathon for the first time since the summer of 2012, winning in 2:20:02. In a duel right to the line, reigning World Half Marathon Champion Gladys Cherono was beaten by just one second on a superb marathon debut, while fellow Kenyan Lucy Kabuu was third in 2:20:21.
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Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council, a record field of more than 25,000 runners entered the marathon, the 10km Road Race and the 4km Fun Run on a day that saw the event beamed to millions of homes across the world.
“I never would have thought that I could win this race,” said Berhanu, who collected his trophy from HH Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Standard Chartered UAE CEO Mohsin Nathani.
“It was my dream to do this in Dubai one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen this year. With around one kilometre to go, I sensed that I could win.
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“If my federation selects me then I would really like to run the marathon in the World Championships in the summer,” added Berhanu, who said he had no idea what to do with the prize money of US$200,000. “I never thought about the money. I really don’t know what I will do with it.”
The strongest women’s field ever in Dubai produced its own share of drama. Firstly, the little known Tigist Tufa, Ethiopian-born and running for Bahrain, broke clear shortly after the start and maintained a daunting pace, leading a talented chasing group by a solid minute at 20km, which suggested a 2:18 finishing time.
But she paid the price in the end and was caught by the pack at 34km by a group comprising Aselefech, returning to racing after maternity and in search of a third Dubai title, fellow Ethiopians Aberu Kebede and Shure Demissie along with the Kenyan duo of Lucy Kabuu and 2014 World Half Marathon champion Gladys Cherono, who was making her debut at the distance.
Cherono has dangerous finishing speed over the shorter distances but it was Mergia who won a contest which ran right to the finish line, completing a hat-trick of Dubai titles by just one second.
“I told myself after having my daughter that I could win a marathon again,” she said. “We used the prize money from my first two wins in Dubai [2011 and 2012] to begin building a hotel back home, now we’ll be able to complete the job.”
In the 10km men’s event, victory went to Fikad Kibreab of Eritrea (29m:56s) with Habtom Welderufael – also from Eritrea – in second (29m:58s) and Morocco’s Ihya Ben Youssef in third (30m:18s). Ruqiya Alkhaja of the UAE took the women’s 10km title in 30m:47s, with Eritrea’s Rahma Abas second (37m:46s) and Latifa Essarokh of France in third (37m:47s).
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Henry Wanyoike is a record holder and gold-medalist in long distance running. When he visited the Rashid Centre in Dubai, his positivity and success helped inspire everyone. Henry will be competing in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon 2015.
With the Dubai Marathon taking place on Friday, Sport360 looks at six stars set to impress.
Date of birth: January 14, 1990 (25)
Desisa comes into this event with remarkable pedigree. His victory in 2013 saw him mark his marathon debut with a winning time sub-2:05 and lead five men under that time to make marathon history. Hasn’t run close to that time since, but recovered from failing to finish last year’s Boston race by taking second place in November’s New York Marathon.
Date of birth: June 13, 1982 (32)
Marathon best: 2:05:04
The 32-year-old has set his sights on marathon success after dominating track and cross country. Has won three Olympic golds at 10,000m (2) and 5,000m, with numerous other successes registered at other global competitions. Claimed victory in his first marathon, in Paris last April. Is building towards a tilt at Olympic marathon gold at Rio 2016.
Date of birth: February 1, 1990 (23)
Marathon best: 2:04:52
A decorated marathon runner who is eager to prove his best days are not behind him. Burst onto scene with bronze at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. However, he endured a disastrous 2013 where failed to finish the World Championship Marathon in Moscow and then Frankfurt. Will be keen to correct the record.
Date of birth: January 23, 1985 (30)
Marathon best: 2:19:31
The two-time winner of the Dubai Marathon is a woman to be feared in this year’s event. Currently holds the course record for her triumph in 2012, where she burst clear to win by three seconds. That success was not replicated at the London Olympics, where she finished 42nd. Is making her way back to her best after taking maternity leave.
Date of birth: May 12, 1983 (31)
Marathon best: Debutant
The marathon debutant’s progress will be eagerly watched by many observers. Has proven a real force at the half distance, claiming individual and team gold at the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen last year. Her marathon bow has been delayed by injury, her first run had been initially pencilled in for Berlin during September.
Date of birth: March 24, 1984 (30)
Marathon best: 2:19:34
Kabuu is a veteran competitor, winning gold as far back as the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. The Kenyan took an unusual route to the top, spending her formative years studying in Japan. Finished runner-up on her Dubai debut in 2012 and third in Tokyo during February 2014. A first major marathon gold, however, remains elusive.