Lemi Berhanu Hayle wins the 2015 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon (© Giancarlo Colombo)
An unprecedented number of former winners will start the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon after reigning champion Lemi Berhanu and 2014 winner Tsegaye Mekonnen confirmed their participation in the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on January 22.
The announcement takes to six the number of athletes in the starting line-up who have won in Dubai with Berhanu and Mekonnen joining 2012 champion and course record-holder Ayele Abshero in the men’s field. In the women’s event, the field is led by former winners Mulu Seboka (2014), Tirfi Tsegaye (2013) and Mamitu Daska (2010).
Competing in only his second marathon, Berhanu destroyed a more experienced field to win last year in 2:05:28 and smash his personal best by five minutes. Mekonnen’s 2014 win was even more sensational. The then 18-year-old set a world junior best of 2:04:32 in what was his first official marathon, having run as a pacemaker in the 2013 race.
“The appearance of six former champions from Ethiopia underlines just how important Dubai rates in the racing calendar for the long distance elite runners,” said event director Peter Connerton.
“The records over the course speak for themselves – we were the first race in history to have 10 men finish in sub-2:05 and we now have 11. And the men and women know with perfect weather and a flat course there are very fast times to be had in Dubai.”
As expected, the competition for places in Ethiopia’s Olympic squad for the Rio 2016 Olympics will be fierce. And with all six former champions hailing from the African hotbed of distance running, the athletics spotlight will be on Dubai when about 30,000 runners gather in the emirate in two weeks’ time.
For 20-year old Mekonnen, the marathon’s fastest ever teenager, it means a return to a city that turned his world around just 24 months earlier.
“The win in Dubai changed my life,” he said. “I was able to buy a house in Addis Ababa, I bought a car to be able to go to the training venues and I stopped school to concentrate fully on running. It is a completely different life for me now.”
Like his compatriot, Berhanu has fond memories of his victory in 2015. Twelve months ago, he emerged from a field that included running superstar Kenenisa Bekele to wrap up a comprehensive, if unexpected, victory.
“I never thought that I could win the race,” said Berhanu. “It was my dream to do it in Dubai one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. With about one kilometre of the race to go, I sensed I could win.”
Organisers for the IAAF