(Dubai, UAE): 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.
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.”
He has now improved by more than five minutes and is unbeaten in two races. “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.”
Meanwhile Dubai proved a tough marathon experience for Kenenisa Bekele. After winning his debut in Paris last April with 2:05:04 and finishing fourth in Chicago in 2:05:51, Dubai brought hope but ultimately frustration. Bekele ran in the lead group up to the 28km point but dropped back quickly and finally stopped shortly after 30km.
“Kenenisa suffered hamstring problems in both legs,” said his coach Renato Canova. “But I think the real problem is in his right Achilles tendon. At the end of November he had to reduce training because of this.
“A world record was never a realistic target, but a 2:04 time seemed realistic. When I saw him running today he did not look relaxed, he looked tight, which is why he developed hamstring problems.But I remain very confident for his future marathon carrier - I think he will do really well.”
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).
The biggest event of its kind in the Middle East, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon drew a mixture of spectators, including Olympians Lord Sebastian Coe and Haile Gebrselassie, HE Mattar Al Tayer (Vice Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council), HE Saeed Hareb (General Secretary of the Dubai Sports Council) and Ahmad Al Kamali (UAE Athletics Federation President and IAAF Member).
In addition to Standard Chartered as title sponsor, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is supported by the Dubai Sports Council, adidas, Dubai Eye 103.8FM, Sport 360, Masafi, Dubai Holding, Dubai Police and the RTA.
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