New Dawn for Dubai Marathon? by Pat Butcher

Here's a final column of the Dubai marathon by Pat Butcher, one of the journalists that we rely on for updates on marathons around the world. This is my first visit to Dubai, and the race looks like it could be terribly fast, maybe even challenging the world record. Tamirat Tola, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist over 10,000m, World Championship silver medalist over the marathon is in top condition. At the presser, Tola told us he is in better shape than in 2017.
Tamirat Tola, Paula Radcliffe, Worknesh Degefa, Asselefech Mergia, photo from Dubai Marathon
The race begins at 6 am and it could be a cool 57-60 degrees. The race director, Peter Connorten has modified the course so that it is as flat as
the proverbial pancake.
Defending champions, Tamirat Tola and Worknesh Degefa, photo by Dubai Marathon
With pacemakers rumored to go out at 61:30, that is just about perfect pace for a fast race. The women's race has a tough field, with Asefelech Mergia, three time winner and Worknesh Degefa, 2017 winner. A toughly fought, sub 2:20 race could be here, with several in contention to the very last.

Dubai, Wednesday, January 24, 12.00gmt

An early morning start and a flat, fast course have delivered some superlative times at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in the past. But there have also been some false dawns for winning youngsters who have not gone on to reproduce their breakthrough performances elsewhere.

That was certainly not the case with last year's surprise men's winner, Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia. Not only did Tola, now 26, prevail against a loaded field which included his famous compatriot Kenenisa Bekele (DNF), Tola's course record of 2.04.11 bettered anything that another illustrious predecessor, Haile Gebrselassie ever did on three occasions on this course.

Even better, Tola went on to greater things.

Already a bronze medallist in the Olympic 10,000 metres in Rio 2016, Tola almost added a world championship gold to that in the marathon in the IAAF World Championships in London 2017. Forcing the pace throughout, then taking a late lead in London, Tola faltered in the last five kilometres and couldn't prevent Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya from winning. Indeed Tola almost conceded the silver right at the end. It turned out that Tola was carrying an Achilles' tendon problem, which caught up with him a few kilometres prior to Kirui doing so. It was so bad that he had to take two months' rest before resuming training.

All of which is to emphasise that Tola looks the real deal.

"I never thought I was going to win last year with Kenenisa on the field," Tola said at Wednesday's press conference, "but I was well prepared, I knew the course because I'd run here before, and I thought I could do well. I started back training in October, and have just been feeling better and better. So, I'm just as well prepared, if not better. I'd like to go through the half in 61.30, and I'd like to think I could run under 2.04".

Which is all well and good for we commentators, who are used to athletes being far more equivocal about their chances. So, all that remains is for Tola to defy history, and continue making his own.

Such have been the rapidity of recent races that only once in the last five years has the Dubai men's finishing time been outside 2.05. And if fast times are the sole arbiter, then Tola's main opposition should come from compatriots, Endeshaw Negese, fourth here four years ago in 2.04.52; and Sisay Lemma, fourth two years ago in 2.05.16, but third last year almost two minutes slower, which is to say, four minutes behind Tola..

The women's race should be far more competitive. And who better to have in the field, in that case, than three-time winner and course record holder, Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia? Two of those victories have come in races when she won by three seconds and one second respectively, beating Kenyans on both occasions. Her favourite she said at the press conference, was the 2015 race, not only because she edged Gladys Cherono, in 2.20.02, "but because I was coming back from the birth of my daughter". She also set the women's course record of 2.19.41, beating Lucy Kabuu by three seconds in 2012. Her polished pedigree also includes victory in London 2010, second in New York and Paris and a world champs bronze medal in Berlin 2009.

In her absence last year, colleague Worknesh Degefa won on her marathon debut, in 2.22.36. She went on to run a string of fast half-marathons, but an injury put paid to an autumn marathon. However she declared herself in better shape than last year.
Principal rival for victory is another Ethiopian, Mare Dibaba who, despite the considerable kudos of those above, is probably the most accomplished runner in both fields. She was third here in 2012, going sub-2.20 behind Mergia and Kabuu, but matured successfully three years later when becoming world champion in Beijing 2015, and following that up with a bronze medal in Rio the following year. She has also won Chicago and Xiamen (twice), and finished second in Boston. And should provide a more than ample test for her colleagues.

If you believe the century began in 2000 (and not a year later), then this race was born with the 21st century. For a country with little history of running, expats formed the bedrock of the fewer than 2000 who turned out for the various races 18 years ago. That has swollen to 30,000 plus for Friday morning's event; and of the 400 sporting events promoted in Dubai nowadays, the marathon is one of only four which has been accorded five-star status by the Dubai Sports Council.

An interested participant/guest of honour at the press conference was multiple world champion and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who observed that with the temperature for the elite race which begins at 6am unlikely to go above 15C, "With good conditions and the excellent organisation, and a fast pace, if the runners work together, there's no reason there can't be more fast times; although that depends on the first half. You can run too fast".

Radcliffe will be colour commentator for the online broadcast of the race, beginning 0200gmt Friday - www.dubaimarathon,org.

Tamirat Tola ETH 2:04:11
Endeshaw Negesse ETH 2:04:52
Sisay Lemma ETH 2:05:16
Girmay Birhanu ETH 2:05:49
Mosinet Geremew ETH 2:06:12
Sisay Jisa ETH 2:06:27
Ronald Korir KEN 2:07:26
Asefa Mengstu ETH 2:08:41
Mekuant Ayenew ETH 2:09:00
Seifu Tura ETH 2:09:26
Joseph Kiptum KEN 2:09:56
Yenew Alamirew ETH Debut
Birhanu Legese ETH Debut
Leul Gebresilase ETH Debut
Fikadu Haftu ETH Debut

Aselefech Mergia ETH 2:19:31
Mare Dibaba ETH 2:19:52
Feyse Tadese ETH 2:20:27
Worknesh Degefa ETH 2:22:36
Roza Dereje ETH 2:22:43
Yebrgual Melese ETH 2:22:51
Sutume Asefa ETH 2:24:00
Azmera Abreha ETH 2:25:23
Yinli He CHN 2:27:35
Netsanet Gudeta ETH 2:29:15
Genet Yalew ETH Debut
Dera Dida ETH Debut
Desi Jisa ETH Debut
Muliye Dekebo ETH Debut
Senbere Teferi ETH Debut

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