aA torrid early pace put paid to a really fast time in Dubai on Friday morning, and after three consecutive victories for the most famous marathoner in the world, Haile Gebrselassie, it was the relatively unknown David Barmasai of Kenya who won today's Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, in 2:07:18.
On a temperate morning for the Emirate, just 21C with low humidity, it was nevertheless a strong headwind in the second half of the race that robbed Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia of the women’s course record. She won in 2:22:45, five seconds outside her best (3rd in London 2010), and just three seconds short of her compatriot, Berhane Adere’s record of 2008. But first place prize money of $250,000, for both winners, will go a long way towards softening that disappointment.
The men took off in assault of Gebrselassie’s World record 2:03:59, and a group of 20, including race favourite Eliud Kiptanui of Kenya were within reach for the first 15km, which took 44:38. But by halfway in 62:46, the possibility had already gone, as had nearly half the contenders.
Shortly afterwards, pacemaker Stephen Kibet only had Kiptanui and Barmasai for company, and when Kibet throttled back at his allotted 30km, and Kiptanui shot away, the race looked settled. But the 21-year-old, who had run 2:05:39 in Prague last May suddenly clutched his side less than a kilometre later, and dropped out, leaving Barmasai to struggle through the final kilometres alone.
Despite his pace dropping considerably, from under three minutes per kilometre to 3:38 by the final one, the 22-year-old had done sufficient damage to his pursuers, to maintain a minute advantage by the end.
This was Barmasai’s third marathon, and his first trip outside Kenya. His only previous claim to fame was in winning the Nairobi Marathon in 2:10:31, at around 1600 metres (one mile) altitude last October.
Today’s result seemed as much of a surprise to himself as to his experienced opponents and the onlookers. “I didn’t really expect to win,” he said in the finish area, immediately after the race. “I was thinking to finish in the top ten. That’s why I kept behind the leading group up to halfway.
“I was afraid of Kiptanui, I was surprised to leave him behind, I thought he’ll come again later. Then I looked for him, and couldn’t see him. It was tough finding myself alone after 30km, and at 35km the wind was really affecting me. But I’m happy to win on my first trip outside my country”.
After two years of injury following his win in Chicago 2008(2.06.25), Evans Cheruiyot rallied into the headwind, and finished second, in 2.08.17, relegating Ethiopian Eshetu Wendimu to a third consecutive third place here, this time in 2:08:54.
After winning a bronze medal in the IAAF World Championships in Berlin 18 months ago, Mergia said that she suffered, “a lot of leg problems”. They were still evident when she finished clutching her left thigh, which went into spasm immediately afterwards.
But she had held the problems in check long enough to outpace the now veteran Lydia Cheromei of Kenya, who had shocked the athletics world exactly 20 years ago, when she won the World Junior Cross Country title at the tender age of 13.
“I was just a baby then,” said a cheery Cheromei, who is now a mother of five year old Faith. “I did not expect still to be running, at 33”.
It was her fourth marathon, as it was for Mergia, who reckoned that but for favouring her legs, she might have clocked closed to 2:20, a time she has always looked capable of doing since her first marathon two years ago.
She eased away from Cheromei with two kilometres to run, and said through an interpreter that it wasn’t until another kilometre later that she knew she would win. Cheromei clocked a personal best by close to three minutes, with 2.23.01. And the Kenyan born former orienteer, Isabella Andersson took another minute and a half off the Swedish record, finishing third in 2.23.40.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
1 David BARMASAI, KEN, 2:07:18
2 Evans CHERUYIOT, KEN 2:08:17
3 Eshetu WENDIMU, ETH 2:08:54
4 Deressa CHIMSA, ETH 2:09:08
5 Stephen KOSGEI, KEN 2:09:27
6 Berhanu BEKELE, ETH 2:09:54
7 Emanuel SAMAL, KEN 2:10:27
8 Adil ANANNI, MOR 2:11:15
1 Aselefech MERGIA, ETH 2:22:45
2 Lydia CHEROMEI, KEN 2:23:01
3 Isabella ANDERSSON, SWE, 2:23:41
4 Atsede HABTAMU, ETH 2:24:26
5 Atsede BAYISA, ETH 2:25:08
6 Diana CHEPKEMOI, KEN 2:26:53
7 Genet GETANEH, ETH 2:27:13
8 Werknesh KIDANE, ETH 2:27:15