DUBAI — Marathon novices mantained their domination in Dubai: a debutant won the Standard Chartered Dubai title for the third consecutive occasion in this IAAF Gold Label Race.
Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Mekonnen continued this impressive sequence as the 18 year-old sprang a surprise, running 2:04:32 in his first marathon. This achievement improved the unofficial World Junior Record by 16 seconds; also unprecedented was a sub-2:06 performance by an 18-year-old, let alone breaking 2:05.
There was much pre-race talk about the possibility of another debutants’ winner.But the athlete in this context was not Tsegaye Mekonnen. It was Atsedu Tsegay, who had recently impressed with a half marathon victory in New Delhi and was targeting a sub 2:05 time.
Dubai is known to produce surprises, and it was no different on Friday: While Tsegay did not finish his debut, fellow-Ethiopian Tsegaye Mekonnen stormed to victory, upsetting the experienced marathon runners as well.
The second and third placed athletes also achieved world-class times of sub 2:06: Markos Geneti ran 2:05:13, followed by fellow-Ethiopian Girmay Birhanu in 2:05:49.
As expected the women’s race was dominated by the Ethiopians as well, claiming the top nine places. Suprisingly Mula Seboka beat favourites Meselech Melkamu and Meseret Hailu.
Seboka, 29, ran 2:25:01 and collected the same winner’s prize as the men’s champion, 200,000 Dollar. Melkamu followed in second place with 2:25:23 and Firehiwot Dado ran 2:25:53. Hailu was fourth in 2:26:20.
The men’s race began very fast with split times that were well inside the world record of 2:03:23 established by Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang in Berlin in 2013. A big group of a round 20 athletes passed 10 k in 29:14 and then reached the half way mark in 61:37. However at that stage the pace had already dropped to around 2:58 to 3:00 per kilometre. This was not fast enough for Kipsang’s world record which soon was out of reach.
While weather conditions were very good during the first half of the race, temperatures then started to climb up and above 20 Celcius in the sunshine. A group of nine runners was reduced to six shortly after the leading group had passed the 30 k mark in 1:28:15. It was then Tamirat Tola who surged ahead. Only Mekonnen and Geneti were able to follow their fellow Ethiopian.
But when Tola gestured that they should help him maintaining the pace they declined. Mekonnen had his own plans. The youngster, who was fifth in the World Junior Championships 2012, sprinted away in the 36th kilometer. Covering the next 1,000 m section in 2:51, he then added kilometre splits of 2:52 and 2:54. There was no way back for Geneti and Tola, who finished fourth in 2:06:17.
“The pace was changing a lot during the first half, which was quite tough. I think I could have run faster with an even pace,” said Tsegaye Mekonnen.
“But I am of course very happy and proud of my performance. I had no idea about the World Junior Record – so this is a bonus for me.”
The IAAF does not officially list World Junior Records, but among road running organisations they are a common feature. The previous record was established by Eric Ndiema of Kenya, who ran 2:06:07 in Amsterdam 2011.
The Ethiopian women made it eight straight wins in succession in the women’s race of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. While this was no surprise, the winner had not been one of the big favourites beforehand. But Mula Seboka showed a strong performance, leading the big group of women more or less from the start. For much of the race the pace was much slower than expected.
After a half way split of 1:14:03 it was not until after the 35 k mark that there was a significant surge. Again it was Seboka, who initiated the attack. Only Meselech Melkamu and Firehiwot Dado were able to hold on, but not for much longer. Dado was dropped at 37 k and then Melkamu lost contact after 38 k.
“When the three of us were together I thought Dado and Melkamu would be stronger than me. But at 37 k I still felt strong and I realised that I have a chance. They did not look that good anymore and I increased the pace again,” said Seboka, who had finished eleventh in Dubai two years ago – this was just one place outside of prize money and she returned empty handed to Ethiopia.
It is very much the opposite now, since Seboka collected the highest winners’ prize available in international marathon running.
“I will partly use this to support my parents and some poor people back home,” she said. “I will have to speak to my husband about what we do with the other part of it.”
1. Tsegaye Mekonnen ETH 2:04:32
2. Markos Geneti ETH 2:05:13
3. Girmay Birhanu ETH 2:05:49
4. Tamirat Tola ETH 2:06:17
5. Azmeraw Bekele ETH 2:07:12
6. Shumi Dechase ETH 2:07:13
7. Abrha Milaw ETH 2:07:46
8. Abera Kassw ETH 2:08:18
9. Abdeimounaim Harroufi USA 2:09:11
10. Belachew Alemay ETH 2:09:50
1. Mula Seboka ETH 2:25:01
2. Meselech Melkamu ETH 2:25:23
3. Firehiwot Dado ETH 2:25:53
4. Meseret Hailu ETH 2:26.20
5. Betelhem Moges ETH 2:26:42
6. Amane Gobena ETH 2:27:05
7. Fantu Eticha ETH 2:27.36
8. Goitetom Haftu ETH 2:27:44
9. Sechale Dalasa ETH 2:27:47
10. Sultan Haydar TUR 2:27:54