Tesfaye Abera held off the challenge of fellow Ethiopians and the past two champions Lemi Berhanu and Tsegaye Mekonnen to win the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.
The 23-year-old agonisingly missed out on what would have been a perfect day as his time of 2:04:24 was just a second outside the course record.
For much of the race the largely Ethiopian field were running at world record pace, ahead by as much as 18 seconds around the 25km mark before dropping off at 32km.
It was still a very impressive effort though by Abera and his compatriots, with the top three all completing the race in under two hours and five minutes, one off the 2012 Dubai record of four runners who went under that mark.
Despite having 2014 champion Mekonnen and last year’s winner Berhanu breathing down his neck, Abera said he felt under no pressure during the race.
“I was not even worrying about that. I was just running my own race. My mind was not busy with other people,” he said at the finish line.
“I was confident and I am very happy to become the number one here. I did good preparation for this race. My training was perfect and today the plan worked out very well for me.”
Despite being delighted with his triumph, Abera was keeping his weary but talented feet on the ground when it came to talk of the Olympic Games in Rio later this year.
“I don’t know yet (about the Olympics),” he said.
“I will go back home and relax a little bit. After that I will make a plan. The Olympics, it is up to the federation. If they select me of course I will go. It is too soon to say although today’s performance will help.”
Abera was among the leading pack throughout. A group of 10 had emerged as the frontrunners just before the halfway point but that was reduced to the Ethiopian sextet of Abera, Berhanu, Mekonnen, Sisay Lemma, Mula Wasihun and Abayneh Ayele soon after.
Ayele was then cut adrift as was Wasihun, who rallied but faded again toward the end, with the top three eventually finishing 30 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
Last year’s champion Berhanu finished nine seconds behind Abera in 2:04:33 and was disappointed not to have won back-to-back Dubai titles.
“I expected to win but at the finish line I felt I had lost energy near the end,” he said.
“I won last year and I’m disappointed to not defend my title even though my time was good. I feel bad that I didn’t win.”
He emitted surprise that Abera had claimed victory.
“I didn’t expect him to win. I expected my team-mates to win so Abera winning was a surprise,” he added.
Mekonnen, champion two years ago, was 13 seconds further behind Berhanu in 2:04:46 and felt a thigh injury robbed him of a possible win.
“Between 10km and 21km I was looking at the course record then after that I had some problem with my leg. If not for the injury I might have won. I think it cost me victory,” said Mekonnen, who also admitted to vomiting during the race.
“I think I ate something that was not good for my stomach before the race and I was vomiting on the course while running, that was a problem. I ate some fruit this morning.”
The women’s race delivered another Ethiopian one, two, three finish, with winner Tirfi Tsegaye streaking home more than a minute clear of runner-up Amane Beriso in 2:19:41.
Tsegaye equaled the record of Russia’s Ramilja Burangulowa and compatriot Aselefech Mergia by claiming her second Dubai win following victory in 2013, while her time was the second fastest at Dubai, 10 seconds outside Mergia’s 2012 record.
Race director Peter Connerton greeted everyone after the race with a beaming smile, and no wonder.
Abera, Berhanu and Mekonnen’s sub 2:05 times added to the record books at Dubai.
“No marathon in their history has had as many runners run under 2:05 and now we’ve got 14 who have done so,” said the Irishman, who says the race has come a long way from humble beginnings in 2000.
“When we started there were only 100 in the marathon and 200 in the 10K and we used to say we’d never get to 10,000 marathon runners and now we’re nearer 30,000, so it’s fantastic.”
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