The 21st anniversary of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Friday offers the extra incentive of a spot on the Olympic team for Tokyo later his year for Ethiopians and Kenyans for whom the event is a relatively short hop across the Arabian Sea, and a rather longer trek across the Atlantic for a trio of Mexicans.
That’s also an indication of how much this race has expanded since its founding at the start of the century. An unremarkable event with 300 runners on the fringes of global long-distance running has turned into one of the fastest races in the world, featuring superstars like Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele in the past, and now attracting entrants from over 150 countries with a bonanza of $400,000 in prize money and an equivalent sum in world record bonuses.
The humidity due to proximity to the sea means the latter will probably remain unclaimed, but last year’s results give an indication of the overall quality of recent results; Ruth Chepngtich of Kenya won in 2.17.08, the
fourth fastest anywhere all-time, with Ethiopian Worknesh Degefa clocking the sixth fastest with 2.17.41; Degefa’s colleague Getaneh Molla ran a men’s course record and top-20 time of 2.03.34.
Degefa had won on her debut in Dubai in 2017, and finished fourth the following year, but as she pointed out at this morning’s press conference, with the world’s only seven-star hotel, the Burj Al-Arab providing a appropriate background, she’s knocked two minutes off her best each time she has run here. That, and a victory in Boston, the world’s oldest marathon last April makes her a confident candidate on the start-line at 6am (0200gmt) Friday. With new ‘super-shoes’ all the rage nowadays (and a potential ban in view), one interviewer was eager to know what she’d be wearing. She named a competitor shoe, then raised the biggest laugh of the conference by adding, ‘If you’re interested, they’re yellow!’
Her colleague Bezunesh Deba is her closest rival, having also won Boston, but back in 2014, though her 2.19.59 remains the course record there. Given that Ethiopians, women and men have dominated this race in recent years, it’s hard to see any other nationality getting a look in, but Risper Gesabwa is an intriguing entrant. A Kenyan who moved to Mexico ten years ago with her husband George, a former sub-14min 5000 metres runner, she’s going to be paced by her brother Rogers, in an attempt to lower her personal best of 2.30.49, set in Frankfurt 2015, to below 2.29.30, and win Olympic selection for Mexico.
Her colleagues, Jose-Luis Santana and Juan Joel Pacheco already have Tokyo qualifying times for what will be an Olympic field restricted to 80 runners; but at a handful of seconds under 2.11 for both of them, they’re looking for at least a couple of minutes faster on the smooth flat Dubai course, to cement their Olympic claims. But, as usual for the men’s likely winner, look no further than Ethiopians and a promising Kenyan.
Solomon Deksisa has to be favourite with wins in Hamburg and Mumbai in 2018, and Amsterdam placings in 2.04.40 and 2.05.16 in the last two years. He says, ‘If the pacemakers do their job well, I’m looking to do under
2.04. I’m here to win, and if so, I think I’ll ensure my Olympic place’. His Ethiopian colleague, Seifu Turu ran 2.04.44 here two years ago, an although good only for seventh place, he has the advantage of knowing the
course. On the other and, his manager thinks 2.06.00 man, Andualem Shiferew is due a breakthrough. An intriguing late entry is Japanese record holder on 2.05.50 is Suguru Osako, but lurking even more mysteriously in the background is Eric Kiprono Kiptanui of Kenya.
A schoolboy athlete who quit running between 2010 and 2016, he now does his long runs with village neighbour, world record holder Eliud Kipchoge; indeed he helped pace Kipchoge to halfway in London last year. And though
this is his marathon debut, he has the considerable credentials of a 58.42 half-marathon; added to which he is coached by the celebrated Italian, Renato Canova. ‘I’m aiming high, but since it’s my first marathon, I think
the next one will be even higher’. Given that he’s asked for a pace of ‘between 61 and 62 (mins) for the first half’ he may yet begin on a high.
The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon will be streamed live, from 01.55 GMTmt, Friday, January 24, at http://bit.ly/DubaiMarathon2020