Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia broke the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon course record on Friday (20), clocking 2:04:11 at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race, while compatriot Worknesh Degefa made it a sixth consecutive Ethiopian double by winning the women’s race in 2:22:36.
But the much heralded world record attempt by his star colleague Kenenisa Bekele suffered an early blow as the multiple global champion and world record holder fell at the start. After being held up in the pack while the leaders accelerated away at world record pace, Bekele never got back on terms and the injuries sustained in the fall caused him to drop out just after halfway.
It is the second time that Bekele has dropped out of the Dubai Marathon, having suffered a hamstring injury two years ago. “I was at least in the same shape as in Berlin and ready for something special today,” said Bekele. “But after a hard fall just after the start, my body was out of balance and I got cramps in my left calf trying to run at world record pace. I like to prepare for many scenarios, but this was definitely not one of them!”
Tola, who earned the bronze medal in the 10,000m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, emphasised just how much progress he has made in the marathon by taking more than two minutes off his PB of 2:06:17, set when he finished fourth in Dubai two years ago on his marathon debut.
But it is a measure of his ambition that he was dissatisfied with his finishing time today, as he was with his third place in Rio.
A lead pack of eight went through 10km in 28:57 and the group was reduced to six men by half way, which was reached in 1:01:33. Bekele, after falling in the scrum at the start, couldn’t get up fast enough to give chase to the rapidly accelerating lead group. When his calf muscle began to tighten, with him up to a minute adrift of the leaders after passing half way in 1:02:48, he had to stop to massage himself and he dropped out shortly afterwards.
Tola was waging a war of attrition with several other Ethiopian colleagues which he finally won shortly before 30 kilometres when the last of his challengers, Sisay Lemma, dropped back. At that point Tola was still only one second shy of world record pace (1:27:39), but the final pacemaker then dropped out, and with almost a minute lead by 35km, Tola could afford to relent.
Tola’s winning time of 2:04:11 was more than a minute outside the world record of 2:02:57 set by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto in Berlin in 2014, but it comfortably broke Ayele Abshero’s course record of 2:04:23 from 2012.
Another Ethiopian, Mule Wasihun, had dropped back to third at one point, but he rallied to finish second in 2:06:46. Lemma held on for third and completed the Ethiopian sweep in 2:08:04.
Despite this marathon success, Tola wants to stay with the 10,000m for the IAAF World Championships London 2017 where his aim is to win the gold medal.
“The pace was very fast at the start,” he said. “The 15km time (43:26) was much too fast. But when we found that Kenenisa was well behind, I became more confident. I’m happy to win, but I think I could have run under 2:04.”
That time would have secured him a $50,000 bonus in addition to the $200,000 first prize. Late on Wednesday, race director Peter Connerton added the bonus for up to five men finishing within 2:04 as an incentive to keep running right to the end, hoping they would ensure a fast pace for Bekele.
Debutante Degefa defeats Demise
It was a similar finale in the women’s race, though that remained competitive until much later in the day.
A group of 10 women passed through 10km in 33:37 and nine of them remained in the pack as they went through the half-way mark in 1:11:06. By 25 kilometres the group was down to seven women but marathon debutante Worknesh Degefa then began to force the pace.
By the time she reached 30km, covered in 1:40:53, Degefa was accompanied by just Shure Demise, the Ethiopian who ran 2:20:59 on her marathon debut while still a teenager in 2015.
Demise managed to claw back some of the deficit in the penultimate kilometre, but when she saw that Degefa was still running strongly, she was forced to settle for second.
Degefa won in 2:22:36 – the 12th fastest marathon debut in history – while Demise clocked 2:22:57, the second-best time of her career. Compatriot Yebrgual Melese completed the Ethiopian sweep with a PB of 2:23:13.
Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF
1 Tamirat Tola (ETH) 2:04:11
2 Mule Wasihun (ETH) 2:06:46
3 Sisay Lemma (ETH) 2:08:04
4 Sisay Jigsa (ETH) 2:08:09
5 Mark Lokwanamoi (KEN) 2:08:39
6 Mekuant Ayenew (ETH) 2:09:23
7 Azmeraw Bekele (ETH) 2:10:22
8 Chele Dechasa (ETH) 2:10:24
9 Limenih Getachew (ETH) 2:11:16
10 Tsegaye Mekonnen (ETH) 2:11:54
1 Worknesh Degefa (ETH) 2:22:36
2 Shure Demise (ETH) 2:22:57
3 Yebrgual Melese (ETH) 2:23:13
4 Tadelech Bekele (ETH) 2:24:04
5 Hirut Tibebu (ETH) 2:25:12
6 Roza Dereje (ETH) 2:26:58
7 Shuko Genemo (ETH) 2:28:16
8 Tigist Teshome (ETH) 2:30:09
9 Megertu Ifa (ETH) 2:30:45
10 Anne-Mari Hyrylainen (FIN) 2:32:19