Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia only got into the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon at the eleventh hour, and it was a last minute surge in the finishing straight which ensured that he would emerge the victor in a highly competitive men’s race that saw him win in a course record 2:04:00, with the top six finishing within 15 seconds, and the top seven under 2:05, the highest number ever in a marathon.
The women’s race was equally competitive, with Roza Dereje winning in 2:19:17, another course record, with the top four finishing sub-2:20, another first. Geremew and Dereje both won $200,000 for victory in this 19th edition of this IAAF Gold Label road race.
There might have been additional kudos in the men’s race since until well over halfway a dozen men were on world record pace, but inevitably when the pacers dropped out, the remaining half dozen realised they had more pressing business on their hands, ie a race to win.
Accordingly the pace dropped while they looked around at one another for inspiration. Not finding it, they had to rely on themselves, which meant that the contest went virtually to the wire. Last year’s winner and course record holder, Tamirat Tola, had looked in control throughout most of the race, but he was baulked at the drinks’ station in the 35th kilometre, and almost fell. He later said that it affected his hip, yet he wasn’t complaining at his third place, but having regained the lead and swinging first into the 500 metre long finishing straight, he was initially bested by debutant Leul Gebresilase who, in turn was relegated by Geremew. Gebresilase finished in 2:04:02, the second fastest debut on record, and Tola was third in 2:04:06.
Geremew’s entry was delayed until a week ago, but that didn’t deter him as much as the initial pace. “It was very fast,” he said at the winners’ press conference, “perhaps a little too fast. But then it settled down, and I felt good. Although I wasn’t sure I had a chance of winning until between 40 and 41 kilometres”.
Gebrsilase pronounced himself well satisfied with his debut, while Tola was reluctant to complain about his ‘accident’ and third place, belying the look of dismay on his face as he slumped to the ground at the finish.
Dereje breaks into top-10 all-time
The women’s race turned out the way guest of honour, marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe described her favourite manner of winning, which is to say with a negative split.
What might be called a sedate 70 minutes-plus for the first half ensured that there was a group of over a dozen women still in contention. Although two of the race favourites, three-time former winner and course record holder Aselefech Mergia, and 2015 world champion Mare Dibaba had both gone by then, last year’s surprise winner Worknesh Degefa was still in contention with a look of intense concentration on her face. That would propel her to fourth place, some two minutes faster than her winning time last year.
But Dereje, who had always been in the lee of the pacers, then forcing the issue from the front was ensuring that she would turn out the winner. She did that by the simple expedient of raising the pace in the final kilometres such that what had been a regular 3:19/3:20 per kilometre until then was transformed in the final five kilometres to 3:14, 3:16. 3:14, 3:11 and 3:08! Her 2:19:17 performance elevated her to the No. 7 position all-time.
Which is why she had plenty of daylight to spare - the sun having risen by then, after the 6am start - when she finished some 14 seconds ahead of Mergia’s course record from 2012.
The earlier start and the lowish temperature for Dubai (between 12-16C) will have contributed to the overall improvement. When Haile Gebrselassie competed here a half dozen years ago, the start was at 7am, and he always said the first half was fine until the sun really kicked in. The organisers took note, and moved the start to 6:30am last year, when Tola responded with a 2:04:11 course record. With a 6am start, like his compatriot Degefa, he ran faster this year for a lower placing.
For the Ethiopians in general, it was total domination. They took the first ten men’s places; only Desi Jisa of Bahrain in eighth place prevented a top ten Ethiopian women’s sweep.
Organisers for the IAAF
1. Mosinet Geremew, ETH, 2:04:00
2. Leul Gebresilase, ETH, 2:04:02
3. Tamirat Tola, ETH, 2:04:06
4. Asefa Mengstu, ETH, 2:04:06
5. Sisay Lemma, ETH, 2:04:08
6. Birhanu Legese, ETH, 2:04:15
7. Seifu Tura, ETH, 2:04:44
8. Yenew Alamirew, ETH, 2:08:56
9. Mekuant Ayanew, ETH, 2:09:20
10. Berhanu Teshome, ETH, 2:10:27
1. Roza Dereje, ETH, 2:19:17
2. Feyse Tadese, ETH, 2:19:30
3. Yebrgual Melese, ETH, 2:19:36
4. Worknesh Degefa, ETH, 2:19:53
5. Haftamnesh Tesfay, ETH, 2:20:13
6. Gelete Burka, ETH, 2:20:45
7. Dera Dida, ETH, 2:21:45
8. Desi Jisa, BRN, 2:24:05
9. Sembere Teferi, ETH, 2:24:11
10. Muliye Dekebo, ETH, 2:26:52