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Ethiopian debutants threaten Kenyans Dubai ambitions

Dubai’s unprecedented finish in 2013: Five runners achieved times of sub 2:05, with Lelisa Desisa winning the title / Photo credit: Helmut Winter.
Dubai’s unprecedented finish in 2013: Five runners achieved times of sub 2:05, with Lelisa Desisa winning the title / Photo credit: Helmut Winter.

Kenyan runners have an imposing record of success in the major city marathons in recent years but Dubai is an exception to the rule. Ethiopians rule the roost when it comes to the men’s competition on this superfast course.

Kenya has produced a men’s champion on just one of the past six occasions when David Barmasai broke through on the international scene three years ago. Otherwise Ethiopia has dominated with their athletes showing an unprecedented depth of talent in the past two years.

By coincidence, both men’s winners were debutants at the classic road distance who promptly ran world-class times. Ayele Abshero broke the course record with 2:04:23 in 2012 and [link id=”303″ tax=”post_tag” text=”Lelisa Desisa” target=”_blank”] clocked 2:04:45 last year.

When the next edition is staged on Friday January 24, 2014 the Kenyans will be going all out to reclaim supremacy. But the Ethiopian blend of experience and promising debutants could prove a potent mix.

The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race and the 42.195 kilometres new course, described by the Organisers as the ‘dream route’,  has just two corners and two turns to be negotiated. Entry for non-elite runners is still possible via the website.

“We are putting together a talented field of elites for the marathon with a great mix of experienced runners and up and coming potential,” said Peter Connerton, the Event Director of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.

“These athletes know that a race time that would normally win any other major race might not even be good enough for a podium place in Dubai so they have to be at their best. Last year, the top five were all under 2:05 – a first in marathon history – with a fantastic fight to the finish line.”

“With a great field taking shape for January 24, we should be in for yet another fast and hard fought race in 2014,” Connerton added.

Jonathan Maiyo will be the standard bearer of Kenyan hopes in Dubai and he has every reason to be confident for his next challenge in the Emirates.

In 2012 he smashed his personal best by almost eight minutes, improving from 2:12:45 to 2:04:56. No doubt about it, that was a world-class time but only good enough for fourth place on that occasion, trailing an Ethiopian trio. The 25 year-old has run one marathon this year, finishing 10th in Tokyo in 2:10:18. He has every intention of being back at his best for Dubai.

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Also returning to this superflat course is Nicholas Kipkemboi, who made his marathon debut in Dubai in January, clocking a fine 2:06:33 for sixth place. He was then supposed to run another fast marathon in Berlin in September but the 27 year-old went to the World Championships in Moscow instead, where he dropped out of the marathon. Dubai now offers a welcome opportunity to bounce back.

One of the strongest opponents from Ethiopian will be Markos Geneti and Jonathan Maiyo needs no reminder of his abilities: In Dubai’s 2012 race Geneti just edged out Maiyo for third place. The Ethiopian finished two seconds ahead with a PB of 2:04:54. As it stands, the 29 year-old will be the fastest runner in the field on 24th January. However, more runners are likely to be added to the line-up in the coming weeks.

Two Ethiopian debutants have won the recent editions of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in spectacular style. Might there be a third consecutive upset in a couple of weeks?

One of those who will make their debut in the Emirates has just shown great form: Atsedu Tsegay won the New Delhi Half Marathon last Sunday. Competing against a very strong field the 21 year-old Ethiopian showed he has fully recovered an ankle injury which kept him out of competition for almost a year. Tsegay clocked 59:12 minutes and broke the course record in India while his half marathon best is an even more impressive 58:47.

Abera Kuma is another promising Ethiopian making his debut at the marathon in Dubai. The 23 year-old has proven track pedigree, twice qualifying for the World Championships. At the age of 20 he was fifth in the 5,000m final in Daegu in South Korea in 2011 and this summer he repeated that position in the 10,000 m in Moscow.

Last year he gave a strong indication of his ability on the road, making his half marathon debut in Birmingham and finished second with 60:19. Now he moves up to the full distance and his track speed could prove tailor-made for a fast marathon course like Dubai.

Meet The Authors

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Yomog Meje is a former Nigerian junior athlete and the Associate editor at Athletics Africa.

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