The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon lived up to its billing as one of the world’s fastest events as course records were shattered in both the men’s and women’s elite races.
Organisers set the cream of the crop of long distance runners off at 6am on Friday morning – one hour ahead of the masses – with this being only the second time in 19 editions of the race that elite runners were subject to a shotgun start before 7am.
The early kick-off certainly proved to have an impact, as combined with low temperatures and a cool breeze, elite runners cashed in on conditions conducive to quicker times on a flat and straight route which first took in Umm Suqeim and Al Sufouh roads and then two laps of Jumeirah Beach Road, from Madinat Jumeirah to the Al Mehemal junction.
Ethiopian Mosinet Geremew was the first male over the finish line at Dubai Police Academy, triumphing in a course record 2:04:00 – which was seven seconds faster than the previous record set by defending champion Tamirat Tola last year.
Geremew demonstrated incredible poise and concentration to withstand heavy pressure on the homestraight as he and five others were all in contention to scoop the $200,000 first-place prize in a dramatic fight to the death.
As it was, the 25-year-old hung on for the biggest win of his career and the 10th fastest certified marathon time of all time, finishing just two seconds ahead of second-placed Leul Gebresilase – who was making his marathon debut – while Tola, ended up six seconds off top spot despite running faster than his winning victory 12 months ago.
The top three and four more men; Asefa Mengstu (2:04:06), Sisay Lemma (2:04:08 – who was also making his first competitive outing over the distance), Birhanu Legese (2:04:15) and Seifu Tura Abdiwak (2:04:44) were all in the mix after running sub 2:05, making it the deepest race to the marathon finishing line in history.
It was also a day for Ethiopia – with all of the top 10 men being from that country – and hundreds more fans watching on from the packed grandstand.
As the numbers above suggest, the race itself was brutally quick. The pacemakers ensured a first-half split of 61:36 and the world record of 2:02:57 was still in reach at 30km, which was passed in 1:27:35.
Felix Kibitok, who had led the field, ran out of gas at the 35km juncture while Tola, who was in real contention for a Dubai double and in a strong position in a cluster of men at the front, lost his momentum somewhat after being tripped by rookie Gebresilase at a drinks stop with seven kilometres left to go.
As it was Mengstu took the initiative and held a precarious lead at the 40km marker but it was still anyone’s race until Geremew and Gebresilase somehow summoned extra energy reserves to claim first and second in a finish for the ages.
Amazingly, Geremew was not confirmed to compete in Dubai until less than a couple of weeks ago – but once again showcased his talent in the UAE.
“It was a very fast race, especially the first half, the competition was very good and the conditions were cool,” the 2015 RAK half marathon champion.
He added: “It was a good race with strong competition over a good course. When did I think I could win? I only thought about winning when I had one kilometre to go.”
— Sport360° (@Sport360) January 26, 2018
Although the men’s race was a thrilling spectacle, the women’s was equally packed with plenty of drama, history re-writing running and by no means played second fiddle at all.
Roza Dereje, a 22-year-old Ethiopian, cantered to victory – breaking away to win by 13 seconds in a new course record: 2:19:17.
Dereje added to her two back-to-back Shanghai Marathon victories in the past two years with a vintage display of lightning fast long-distance running, and incredibly, she was one of four women along with Feyse Tadese (2:19:30), Yebrgual Melese (2:19:36) and last year’s champion Worknesh Degefa (2:19:53), being the other, who all finished sub 2.20 – the most women to do just that in a single race.
If that wasn’t enough then more milestones were made when the two other top six finishers; Haftamnesh Tesfay (2:20:13) and Gelete Burka (2:20:45), both also broke 2.21 – making it the first time this had ever happened.
Dereje, who is now the seventh fastest marathoner in the history of women’s racing, had never gone under 2:22 before Friday but displayed her vast potential to overhaul Aselefech Mergia’s 2012 course record of 2:19:31 and record a superb personal best with a male pacemaker in tow on the home straight.
“From the beginning my training was very good and the race was comfortable for me,” Dereje, who also said she would ask her coach how to spend her $200k prize cheque, told assembled media.
“I felt fully confident past 40k that I could win the race and it is a nice victory for me.”
— Sport360° (@Sport360) January 26, 2018
Meanwhile, in the wheelchair races it was a Swiss double with “Silver Bullet” Marcel Hug winning the men’s title (1:25:14) and compatriot Sandra Graf taking the women’s gold in 1:45:13.
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