Dubai: After more than three years away from the sporting calendar, the Dubai Marathon returns with a vengeance on Sunday complete with a brand-new route starting from Expo City Dubai.
The global pandemic and safety restrictions temporarily put the brakes on the Middle East’s oldest international marathon but under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council the race is back, offering thousands of runners the opportunity to compete in three races that will all finish in the spectacular setting of the iconic Al Wasl Dome.
And while the event was only recently moved from its regular setting on the Umm Suqeim Road, event officials have worked tirelessly around the clock to produce three race routes from scratch and a finish line that will be one of the most memorable of the year.
“When we were invited to move the event to Expo City Dubai, we knew it would be a major logistical challenge for the team,” said Race Director Peter Connerton. “Our traffic management and route officials have spent many long nights establishing a route that will embrace both Expo City Dubai and its surroundings, while the finish line is a completely new concept we hope the runners will enjoy.”
In a move aimed at supporting the first edition of the Dubai Marathon at Expo City Dubai, the RTA announced that the Dubai Metro will operate from 4am on the day of the race. The decision was welcomed by everyone involved with the event as it looks to reassert itself as one of the fastest marathons in the world on its long-awaited return.
For marathon runners, the 42.195km race will begin at 6am with athletes of all abilities starting at the same time as the world’s elite distance specialists, while the 10km Road Race and 4km Fun Run will have their starting gun at 8am and 11am respectively.
In the elite men’s field, 2014 Dubai Marathon champion Tsegaye Mekonnen boasts the field’s personal best time of 2:04:32 but is in the mix with a number of talented and experienced fellow Ethiopians including 2022 Rome and Linz Marathon winner Fikre Bekele, former Rotterdam Marathon champion Abera Kuma and Gebretsadik Abraha, a winner in Marrakech, Prague, Guangzhou and, most recently, in Ljubljana.
The marathon route will see the field run from the expanse of Expo City Dubai out on to some of the city’s most modern highways, past Dubai Investments Park and Jumeirah Golf Estates, before returning to finish in front of the iconic Al Wasl Dome.
In the elite women’s field, 2020 Dubai Marathon runner-up Gutemi Shone believes she can go one better in 2023, although the 31-year-old — who finished in fifth place in Seoul last year — also has tough competition in the shape of Ethiopian compatriots Ruti Aga (personal best 2:18:34), Gelete Burka and the talented 22-year-old Siranesh Yirga, who won three successive marathons in 2022.
Aiming for a world record
In the wheelchair category, defending champion Marcel Hug from Switzerland will be back gunning for another Dubai crown as well as a new world best he believes is within his grasp.
“I want to try to break the world record,” said the man known as the Silver Bullet. “But a lot depends on the wind direction which is difficult to predict. It is very early in the season and the Dubai Marathon will be my first competition in 2023 but I trained very hard for this and I feel well prepared.”
In the women’s wheelchair category, England’s Eden Rainbow-Cooper is making her first visit to Dubai only six months after claiming a stunning silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
First taste of Dubai
The 22-year-old — part of the Weir Archer Academy, run by six-time Paralympic champion David Weir — is set for her first experience of the fast and flat roads of Dubai, and is looking forward to the challenge.
“I’m very excited to be competing in my first Dubai Marathon and Grand Prix,” said Rainbow-Cooper. “I can’t wait to get the first marathon and track event of the season under my belt to see where I am at and also to see some good friends for the first time in 2023.”
The 2023 Dubai Marathon is supported by adidas, Dubai Duty Free, NORQAIN, the Channel 4 Radio Network, Al Ameen, the Dubai Sports Council, Dubai RTA, Dubai Police and Dubai Municipality.