Tamirat Tola and Worknesh Degefa ahead of the 2018 Dubai Marathon (Giancarlo Colombo / organisers) © Copyright
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Defending champions Tola and Degefa face tough test at Dubai Marathon

Defending Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon champions Tamirat Tola and Worknesh Degefa will face a powerful elite field of Olympians and major city marathon winners with more than 40 international titles between them when they line up for the IAAF Gold Label road race on Friday (26).

Twelve months ago, the Ethiopian pair dominated in Dubai with Tola setting a course record of 2:04:11 – currently the 10th-fastest marathon time in history – and Degefa recording one of the fastest debuts in history with her winning time of 2:22:36.

Following his win in Dubai last year – a victory that saw him break the course record by 12 seconds – Tola underlined his growing stature by taking silver in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.

Although he had earned the bronze medal in the 10,000m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Tola focused exclusively on the roads in 2017. In between his marathons in Dubai and London, he clocked a half marathon PB of 59:37 to win in Prague.

Nine of the past 10 editions of the Dubai Marathon have been won by Ethiopian men and that streak looks set to continue this year.

While Tola returns to Dubai as the fastest man in the field, he will have to see off the challenge of the likes of 2015 Tokyo Marathon winner Endeshaw Negesse and half-marathon specialist Mosinet Geremew, both also from Ethiopia.

Negesse set his PB of 2:04:52 at the 2013 Dubai Marathon when he finished fourth in a close race, just seven seconds behind the winner. Following his victory at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon, he finished fourth at the Shanghai Marathon in 2:10:51 later that year but hasn’t completed a marathon since.

He lined up for the Dubai Marathon last year but only made it as far as 10 kilometres. Five weeks later he similarly failed to finish at the Lake Biwa Marathon.

Geremew’s recent form has been more convincing. The 25-year-old made his marathon debut in Xiamen last year, finishing second in 2:10:20. He went on to chop four minutes off that time at the Berlin Marathon later in the year, finishing third behind Eliud Kipchoge and Guye Adola in 2:06:12.

With a strong track background – he has PBs of 13:17.41 for 5000m and 27:18.86 for 10,000m – and a half marathon PB of 59:11, Geremew’s marathon PB could be set for further revision on Friday.

Having finished fifth in 2015, fourth in 2016 and third in 2017, Sisay Lemma is aiming to continue his momentum in Dubai. The 27-year-old, who recorded his PB of 2:05:16 on his second appearance in Dubai, will have gained confidence from making it on to the podium last year and his fourth-place finish in Chicago.

Girmay Birhanu, the fourth man in the field with a sub-2:06 PB, is also making his fourth appearance in Dubai. His best result to date was his 2:05:49 third-place finish in 2014. In his sole race of 2017, he finished a close second at the Beijing Marathon in 2:11:26.

Benson Kipruto is the fastest of the Kenyan entrants. The 27-year-old has contested just three marathons in his career so far, but has improved significantly in each one, clocking 2:13:24 in Athens in 2016, 2:09:51 in Prague at the start of 2017 and 2:07:21 to finish second in Gongju three months ago.

At 2:13:06, compatriot Barselius Kipyego may not have the quickest PB of the field, but he is yet to master the distance. His form at half the distance – which includes back-to-back wins in Usti Nad Labem in 59:15 and 59:14 – suggests he is capable of a fast time over 26.2 miles.

Dubai has a proven record for launching marathon careers and several athletes will be making their debut over the classic distance on Friday.

Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew, one of the fastest men in history over 3000m (7:27.26) and 5000m (12:48.77), will be moving up in distance along with compatriots Leul Gebrselassie and Fikadu Haftu, who finished second and third at the Valencia Half Marathon last year in PBs of 59:18 and 59:22.

Degefa takes on Mergia, Dibaba and Burka

Ethiopian women have been even more dominant in Dubai than their male counterparts, winning the past 11 editions of the race.

Two of those winners, Worknesh Degefa and Aselefech Mergia, will return to the United Arab Emirates where they will be joined by compatriot Mare Dibaba, the 2015 world champion.

Degefa hasn’t contested another marathon since her 2:22:36 victory in Dubai 12 months ago, but she enjoyed a strong 2017 campaign at shorter distances. She finished third at the Istanbul Half Marathon in 1:08:55, won the Olomouc Half Marathon in 1:09:19 and clocked a season’s best of 1:08:10 to finish fifth in Delhi towards the end of the year.

Mergia is the most successful woman ever at the Dubai Marathon, having won in 2011, 2012 and 2015. She set her PB – and the course record – of 2:19:31 during her second victory and came within 31 seconds of it when winning three years later. The 2010 London Marathon champion and 2009 world bronze medallist had a season’s best of 2:23:08 in 2017, recorded when finishing third at the London Marathon.

Dibaba finished third behind Mergia in 2012, clocking a lifetime best of 2:19:52. She went on to match that time when winning the 2015 Xiamen Marathon, then won the world title later that year and the Olympic bronze medal in 2016.

Gelete Burka is one of the most accomplished women in the field. The 2006 world cross-country champion and 2008 world indoor 1500m champion made a brief foray into marathon running in 2013 and 2014, but returned to the track in 2015 to take the 10,000m silver medal at the World Championships.

After strong track campaigns in 2016 and 2017 – including a 10,000m PB of 30:26.66 at the Rio Olympics – Burka is returning to the marathon and will be bidding to improve on the 2:26:03 PB she set four years ago.

Roza Dereje successfully defended her title at the Shanghai Marathon last year, setting a PB of 2:22:43. The Ethiopian, who clocked a half marathon best of 1:07:23 last year in Copenhagen, will be returning to Dubai, having finished sixth last year.

As is the case in the men’s race, several women will be making their marathon debut on Friday, the most notable of whom is Senbere Teferi. The 2015 world silver medallist at 5000m and cross country boasts track PBs of 4:01.86 for 1500m, 8:34.32 for 3000m, 14:29.82 for 5000m and 30:40.59 for 10,000m. To date, her longest race was over 10 miles at the Great South Run; she finished second on that occasion to Tirunesh Dibaba in 52:51.

Jon Mulkeen and organisers for the IAAF

Elite fields

Men
Tamirat Tola (ETH) 2:04:11
Endeshaw Negesse (ETH) 2:04:52
Sisay Lemma Kasaye (ETH) 2:05:16
Girmay Birhanu Gebru (ETH) 2:05:49
Mosinet Geremew (ETH) 2:06:12
Jacob Jarso (ETH) 2:06:17
Sisay Jisa Mekonnen (ETH) 2:06:27
Benson Kipruto (KEN) 2:07:21
Ronald Kipkoech Korir (KEN) 2:07:29
Asefa Mengistu (ETH) 2:08:41
Mekuant Ayenew Gebre (ETH) 2:09:00
Seifu Tura (ETH) 2:09:26
Joseph Kiprono Kiptum (KEN) 2:09:56
Herpasa Negasa (ETH) 2:10:17
Barselius Kipyego (KEN) 2:13:06
Yenew Alamirew (ETH) debut
Felix Kibitok (KEN) debut
Derara Desalegn Hurisa (ETH) debut
Leul Gebresilase Aleme (ETH) debut
Fikadu Haftu (ETH) debut
John Kipkoech (KEN) debut

Women
Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2:19:31
Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:19:52
Feyse Tadese (ETH) 2:20:27
Worknesh Degefa (ETH) 2:22:36
Roza Dereje Bekele (ETH) 2:22:43
Yebrqual Melese (ETH) 2:22:51
Sutume Asefa Kebede (ETH) 2:24:00
Azmera Abreha (ETH) 2:25:23
Gelete Burka (ETH) 2:26:03
He Yinli (CHN) 2:27:35
Netsanet Gudeta (ETH) 2:29:15
Anne-Mari Hyrylainen (FIN) 2:32:19
Yeshaneh Ababel (ETH) 2:33:10
Dera Dida Yami (ETH) debut
Muliye Dekebo Haylemariam (ETH) debut
Haftamnesh Tesfay Haylu (ETH) debut
Desi Jisa Mokonin (BRN) debut
Senbere Teferi (ETH) debut
Genet Yalew (ETH)