Ethiopian Deriba Merga will be looking to underline his growing racing maturity when he joins a powerful line-up at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on 27 January.
The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Merga’s rise to international prominence saw him win the Boston Marathon in 2009 as well as claiming a fourth place finish at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But it’s that result in China that still grates with the 31-year-old, who admits his sheer passion for leading a race arguably cost him an Olympic medal.
“I love to run at the front but in Beijing I set off far too quickly,” he said with a smile after confirming his participation in this year's race. "It's something I have been working on and I’ll be paying close attention to better pace management in Dubai.”
With a Marathon personal best of 2:06:38 set in London in 2008, Merga will be among the quickest men in a field that also features Martin Lel of Kenya, who has won three London titles and two in New York.
And after winning the 2011 Half Marathon in Ras Al Khaimah, Merga is keen on taking another step up in the UAE and trying his hand in the Dubai Marathon, the region’s first IAAF Gold Label race.
“Speaking to Deriba in Ethiopia last year, it was obvious how keen he is to compete in Dubai,” said Event Director Peter Connerton, who continues to pull together a world-class field of elite runners for the $1 million race. “He has waited for this chance for a long time and he is determined to improve on his personal best and challenge for the title.”
Staged under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon will see the field start from outside The Pavilion Downtown Dubai opposite the Burj Khalifa.
For Merga is it will be yet another chapter in a story that has taken him from relative poverty to international acclaim. “I grew up helping my parents with farming and also going to school,” he said. “I didn’t have much joy as a child – it was a hard life but running became my hope in a difficult childhood.”
“I woke up before 6am for training and would go on an empty stomach, train hard and then go to school for the whole day without eating. I would then go to the farm to tend to the cattle and might not eat until later in the evening. I tried to go to school, but I could not. It became a choice between training and school and I chose training.”
After winning a few more races in his home town of Wellega, Merga moved to Addis Ababa in 2005 and soon realised that it was distance running that could help him improve his life. He made his marathon debut in Boston in 2006 and made a name for himself at home by winning the 2006 Great Ethiopian Run – Africa’s largest 10km race – to confirm his status as one of the country’s brightest young talents.
If Merga can curb his infectious enthusiasm – “when I lose it’s due to a lack of patience” – then Dubai could well see a new star light up the Marathon world on January 27.
Organisers for the IAAF