DUBAI — Ayele Abshero of Ethiopia won the Dubai Marathon on Friday, setting a course record of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 23 seconds in his first marathon, giving his country a morale-boosting victory over rivals Kenya in an Olympic year.
The 21-year-old moved up to the full marathon distance after having broken the hour mark in the half marathon in the Hague last year.
Abshero moved to the front of a pack at the 34 kilometer (21.13 miles) mark and then pulled away from his compatriot Dino Sefir Kemal at 39 kilometers (24.2 miles) to win the race by 25 seconds over Kemal. Markos Geneti was third, completing a clean sweep of the placings for Ethiopia.
Abshero’s time was 30 seconds faster than the course record set by the great Haile Gebrselassie in 2008.
Abshero’s victory was unexpected not only because of his inexperience but because of the number of top Kenyans entered in the race.
But the likes of five-time major winner Martin Lel of Kenya and the 2011 champion David Barmasai of Kenya couldn’t keep pace and dropped out of contention with about 10 kilometers (6 miles) to go.
The win, which returns Ethiopians to the top spot in Dubai following Gebrselassie hat trick of victories from 2008-2010, .also puts a dent in the dominance of Kenyans who won every major marathon last year and would have been banking on gold in the upcoming Olympics in London.
In the women’s race, defending champion Aselefech Mergia made it an Ethiopian double as she held off Lucy Kabuu of Kenya by just three seconds, winning in 2 hours 19 minutes and 31 seconds. Kabuu, running her first marathon after being a force at 10,000 meters, briefly held the lead in the closing stages but Mergia passed her and held on for the victory.
Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba was third, 21 seconds behind compatriot Mergia.