It was Ethiopians all the way as they swept their Kenyan rivals from the board in both men’s and women’s races at the 14th Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard.
Desisa, 23, only got away from his rivals in the final 200m as the marathon debutant won in 2.04.45, for the 13th fastest time in history – and with four other men close behind, the quintet beat last year’s Dubai record of being the first marathon in history to feature four sub-2.05 men. Long-time race leader Berhanu Shiferaw was second in 2.04.48, while another compatriot, veteran Tadesse Tola clocked a personal best 2.04.49 in third.
The early fog for the 7am start (15C) dissipated when the leaders hit the coast after eight kilometres, but on the lengthy stretch down the beach road, the fog returned even thicker, bringing high humidity with it.
“I tried to push the pace at 38k,” said Desisa, “but the others responded strongly, so I decided to wait until the end. I have a good sprint and I was confident that it would win me the race. I had aimed for 2.06 for my debut but when I saw the time at the finish I was shocked. If I can find a similarly good course, and my coach agrees, maybe next time I can go for the world record.”
By contrast, the women’s race lived up to predictions in all but the finishing time, according to the winner. Tirfi Tsegaye, who was a big pre-race favourite following her victory in Paris last year and a second place in Berlin last October, took the tape in 2:23:23 to follow the 2011 and 2012 Dubai wins of training partner Assefelech Mergia.
Tsegaye was always part of the leading group, but by 30k she was out on her own, and although slacking off in the final stages, still won by close to 20 seconds.
“I came with two aims,” she said. “I wanted to win and to run under 2.20. I was determined to push in the second half of the race, but by that time, it had become very humid, and it was affecting me. So I’m happy to win, but unhappy I didn’t break 2.20. I’ll have to come back next year and try again”.
Her colleagues, Ehitu Kiros and Amane Gobena gained ground on her in the last five kilometres, but finished behind her in that order, Kiros second in 2.23.39, and Gobena third, in 2.23.50
In the Men’s 10km victory went to Eritrea’s Samuel Tesfalidet in 28m:50s with fellow Eritrean Mehari Fisshaye second (29m:04s) and Morocco’s Ihya Youssef in third (29m:22s). The ladies 10km was won by Ethiopia’s Alem Fikri in 32m:39s with the UAE pair of Aliya Saeed and last year’s winner Betty Belayouh following her home in 32m:48s and 33m:13s respectively.
“It was a beautiful race for me,” beamed Tesfalidet. “Everything was perfect on the road and it is good to have a first and second place for Eritrea.”
Another notable performance at an event that continues to raise the bar in terms of records and personal bests came from British wheelchair competitor Rob Smith. The Englishman is a regular visitor to Dubai and he returns to the UK with the Wheelchair Open gold medal and a new British record of 2h:06m:45s for the T52 Wheelchair Class.
“It was very hard work especially with the condensation building up on the wheels, which meant it was extremely difficult to grab and push the wheels,” said Smith. “My arms are aching but I’m absolutely delighted to have broken the British record in the class and set a new personal best.
On hand to present the trophies were special guest His Highness Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamed Al Khalifa, Vice President of the Bahrain Olympic Committee as well as Mattar Al Tayer, Vice President of the Dubai Sports Council; Jonathan Morris, Standard Chartered CEO UAE; and Ahmed Al Kamali, President of the UAE Athletics Federation.
The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon was supported by the Dubai Sports Council, Adidas, 103.8FM, JW Marriott Marquis, Emaar, Sport 360, Dubai Holding, Dubai Police and the RTA.