Ayele Abshero of Ethiopia turned the Marathon tide substantially on Friday when he ran the fastest winning debut in history, taking the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon title in an event record time of 2:04:23, which also makes him the fourth fastest man ever.
The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Abshero, the former World junior Cross Country champion (2009), also established himself as a leading contender for Ethiopia’s Olympic trio, if not victory at London 2012. The 21-year-old headed an Ethiopian 1-2-3, with Dino Sefir second in 2:04:50, and Markos Geneti third in 2:04:54, both personal bests.
The Kenyans who carried all before them last year in the Marathon world were firmly rebuffed. Jonathon Maiyo placed fourth, in 2:04:56, but he was the only non-Ethiopian in the top ten, most of whom set personal bests. Pre-race favourite Martin Lel dropped off the lead group and out of the race with a knee injury at 30km. Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, looking to make his fifth Olympic team, finished 19th in 2:12:12.
A relatively sedate start, followed by gradual acceleration in temperate conditions ensured that a large group of over 30 men reached halfway in 1:02:22. That group was only whittled down well past 30 kilometers, and with the top five finishers relaying the lead until Abshero made his break close to 40k fast times all round were the order of the day.
There were perfect conditions for Marathon running in the Gulf state, with temperatures of 12C (55F) at the 7 a.m. start, only rising a couple of degrees by the women’s finish shortly before 9.20 a.m.. Underlining the quality of the fields and temperate weather with no wind, not to mention the million dollar prize pot, 14 men went under 2:08, and nine women under 2:25.
Abshero, whose most notable feat apart from his World junior Cross Country victory was beating (a less than fully fit) Kenenisa Bekele in a 15Km road race three years ago, maintained that his finishing time was his target.
“I thought I could run 2:04 today,” he said, “but it’s hard to plan for your first Marathon, really I just didn’t know what was going to happen. But I’m very happy. I’m now the number one in Ethiopia, and I think it could be the Olympic Games for me.”
Abshero is only headed historically by the Kenyans Patrick Makau with his world record 2:03:38 and Wilson Kipsang (2:03:42), and his illustrious colleague Haile Gebrselassie (2:03:59). But breaking Gebrselassie’s Dubai course record by 30 seconds ensured further cachet for the youngster.
National record for Mergia as top-three break 2:20
It was an Ethiopian red letter day all round, with Asefelech Mergia defending her Dubai title, running a national and course record with a personal best of 2:19:31, finishing just ahead of Kenyan debutante Lucy (Wangui) Kabuu who was three seconds adrift. Again Ethiopians dominated, with Mare Dibaba third in a personal best 2:19:52, and six in the first ten.
While the men’s leaders ran a negative split – the second half faster than the first – the women’s pace was fairly even. A group of nine went though the ‘half’ in 1:09.42. Again it was the Ethiopians who fared better in the second half of the race, with last year’s second Lydia Cheromei of Kenya dropping back to finish fifth, albeit in a personal best.
The three seconds difference at the end can probably be explained by Mergia being defending champion and Kabuu being a debutante, something that the Ethiopian hinted at afterwards.
“I know the course, so I felt confident. I prepared well and I’m delighted with 2:19. I’m now the best Ethiopian, and with a time like that, I hope to be selected for the Olympic Games.”
Mergia also won the world’s biggest marathon prize of $250,000 (women and men) for the second year in succession, and got the upper hand in the first international Marathon where three women went under 2.20. All in all, another Marathon day to remember.
Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF
1. Ayele ABSHERO, ETH 2.04.23 $250,000
2. Dino SEFIR, ETH 2.04.50 100,000
3. Markos GENETI, ETH 2.04.54 50,000
4. Jonathon MAIYO, KEN 2.04.56 25,000
5. Tadese TOLA, ETH 2.05.10 15,000
6. Yami DADI, ETH 2.05.41 14,000
7. Abdullah DAWIT, ETH 2.05.42 13,000
8. Desressa CHIMSA, ETH 2.05.42 12,000
9. Seboka TOLA, ETH 2.06.17 11,000
10. Yemane TSEGAY, ETH 2.06.29 10,000
1. Aselefech MERGIA, ETH 2.19.31 $250,000
2. Lucy KABUU, KEN 2.19.34 100,000
3. Mare DIBABA, ETH 2.19.52 50,000
4. Bezunesh BEKELE, ETH 2.20.30 25,000
5. Aberu KEBEDE, ETH 2.20.33 15,000
6. Lydia CHEROMEI, KEN 2.21.30 14,000
7. Sharon CHEROP, KEN 2.22.39 13,000
8. Atsede BAYSA, ETH 2.23.13 12,000
9. Mamitu DASKA, ETH 2.24.24 11,000
10. Isabella ANDERSSON, SWE 2.25.41 10,000