Dubai: Blazing through the dense morning fog, Ethiopian runners swept the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon titles in the men’s and women’s categories on Saturday.
Debutant marathon runner Lelisa Desisa sprinted away from a five-strong leading pack by using his skills as a half-marathon specialist in the final kilometre to emerge as the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon’s new men’s champion in 2 hours 4 minutes and 45 seconds.
In the women’s race, Tirfi Tsegaye, clocking 2:23:23, finished first as thousands of Ethiopians, who thronged the stands from the start to cheer their runners, danced in joy to the beat of the drums.
The men’s race witnessed a nailbiting finish, with 23-year-old Desisa’s countrymen Berhanu Shiferaw finishing second in 2:04:48 and Tadese Tola clinching third place in 2:04:49. So intense was the battle that the top-five male finishers were separated by a slender eight seconds.
Ethiopian supporters went berserk when their country’s women runners, Ehitu Kiros and Amane Gobena, finished in 2:23:39 and 2:23:50 to finish second and third respectively, a few seconds behind Tsegaye.
Though the Dubai Marathon course record — set last year by Ethiopians Ayele Abshero (2:04:23 in the men’s race) and Aselefech Mergia’s (2:19:31 in the women’s) — remained intact, the race to the finish was exciting.
Speaking to Gulf News after receiving the $200,000 winner’s purse, Desisa said: “I am really surprised to win this race as I was expecting to finish in only under 2:06, but to record such a timing through my last sprint is indeed a special feeling. The win here will change my life.”
The women’s winner Tsegaye was similarly delighted with her effort.
“I came with only two aims: I wanted to win and to run under 2:20. I wanted to push in the second half of the race, but I felt very humid and it started to affect me,” Tsegaye said.
“I am unhappy I did not break the 2:20 mark, but happy to win. I will return next year to try again. I am happy that my friends Kiros and Gobena won the second and third places. We all trained hard together for this marathon.”
Despite the cold, foggy morning, this year’s Dubai Marathon broke the record for the most participants, with more than 24,000 athletes running.
Meanwhile, it was a disappointing day for the Kenyans, who once dominated the event.
The best finish among the Kenyans in the men’s event was Bernard Koech, who could only make fifth place in a time of 2:04:53, followed by his countryman Nicholas Kipkemboi in 2:06:33.
Kenya’s three-time London marathon winner Martin Lel and Chicago Marathon winner Moses Mosop had pulled out of Dubai Marathon at the last minute.
In the women’s race, Ethiopian women claimed the top six positions, followed by Sweden’s Issabellah Andersson, Namibia’s Beata Naigambo and Japan’s Misaki Katsumato.
In the men’s 10km race, Eritrea’s Samuel Tesfalidet won in 28 minutes 50 seconds, with his countryman Mehari Fisshaye coming second in 29:04 and Morocco’s Ihya Yousuf in third place win a time of 29:22.
Ethiopia’s Alem Fikri won the women’s 10km in 32 minutes 39 seconds, with the UAE’s Aliya Saeed and Betty Belayouh clinching the second and third places in times of 32 minutes 48 seconds and 33 minutes 13 seconds respectively.
“It was a beautiful race. It is great to have a first and second place for Eritrea,” said Tesfalidet.
The UAE’s Aliya said: “I am happy to finish second as I missed last year’s marathon due to an injury. I will aim to win it next year.”
1. Lelisa DESISA (ETH) 2.04.45
2. Berhanu SHIFERAW (ETH) 2.04.48
3. Tadese TOLA (ETH) 2.04.49
4. Endeshaw NEGESSE (ETH) 2.04.52
5. Bernard KOECH (KEN) 2.04.53
1. Tirfi TSEGAYE (ETH) 2.23.23
2. Ehitu KIROS (ETH) 2.23.39
3. Amane GOBENA (ETH) 2.23.50
4. Aheza KIROS (ETH) 2.24.30
5. Belaynesh OLJIRA (ETH) 2.25.01
1. Samuel Tesfalidet (ERI) 28:50.
2. Mehari Fisshaye (ERI) 29:04
3. Ihya Youssef (MOR) 29:22s.
1. Alem Fikri (ETH) 32:39.
2. Aliya Saeed (UAE) 32:48
3. Betty Belayouh (UAE) 33:13.