Posted on Friday, February 10th, 2023 at 1:07 pm and is filed under Butcher's Blog | 0


It’s unlikely that Haile Gebrselassie ever finished 22nd in anything, unless maybe it was a Latin exam; but such has been the great leap forward in marathon times in recent years that Geb’s 2hr 04min 53sec victory here in Dubai 15 years ago – just 16 seconds off the then world record – doesn’t even rank in the Emirate’s top 20 nowadays. Such is progress!

Tsegaye wins 2014 Dubai Marathon , foto di Giancarlo Colombo

That progress was brought to a rude halt three years ago by the pandemic; but after two missed events, the Dubai Marathon returns on Sunday with organisers’ expectations of picking up where they left off, defying the odds and producing one of the fastest races on the circuit. Geb was an exception, as he was in any athletic event, but most top athletes are usually in hard training at this time of year for European and north American events in springtime; so Dubai has recently made a virtue of necessity, and given untested youth its chance.

Added to which, the ‘prize but no appearance money’ philosophy has been rewarded with some electrifying performances, best exemplified by the 2012 race, when five men appeared neck and neck, eyeballs-out, at the top of the finishing straight, and all finished in an unheralded anywhere sub-2hrs 05mins. There was a similar collective best in the women’s race, four under 2.20.

Prior to that, the three year reign of ‘Emperor’ Haile had already given the event its international cachet, beginning in 2008, when after a blistering first half, the Ethiopian fell foul of rising temperatures and narrowly missed not only a world record but the one million dollars prize money that went with it. As race director Peter Connerton wryly recalled at Friday’s press conference, ‘the most expensive 16 seconds of Haile’s career’.

But the great leap forward since then, much of it engendered by the super-shoe revolution means that Haile’s time rates no better than 22nd on the Dubai list headed by one of those virtual unknowns, Getaneh Molla’s 2.03.34 from 2019. Less than a minute slower in winning five years earlier, another Ethiopian Tsegaye Mekonnen returns Sunday in a quest to retrieve the form which took him as another unknown debutant to a world junior record of 2.04.32, at age 18. But he’s had a hard time with injuries since then, his last win coming in Hamburg 2017 with 2.07.26. Fastest man in the field is Bazu Hayla with 2.05.25, but that dates back to Berlin 2010.  A more likely winner is his colleague, the remarkably consistent Fikre Bekele, who has won six marathons of seven, his best of 2.06.13 coming in Linz, Austria five months ago.

The women’s field has a more accomplished look to it. Veteran Gelete Burka has won world medals from 1500 metres to cross country, and set her marathon best of 2.20.45 here five years ago. But the 37 year old will have her strongest competition from her Ethiopian compatriots; Ruti Aga has twice finished second on the fast Berlin course, the better time, 2.18.34 coming in 2018. The two other contenders seem likely to be Sirinesh Yerga, winner in Ljubljana in 2.21.08 five months ago, and Gutemi Imana, hoping to improve on her second place here in Dubai, in 2.20.21, the last time the race was held in 2020.

Just over two years ago, UEA rulers agreed a change to the working week, which meant that the former Friday day off for the race now falls in line with most popular big-city marathons, and takes place on Sunday. The race, on a new course, beginning and ending in Expo City, south of Dubai downtown, is three weeks later than usual, thus the 6am start in the hope of countering the warmer temperatures, but strong breezes in the last few days have produced a relative chill in the Gulf. If previous races are anything to go by, the runners will generate enough heat themselves.

The event will be streamed free across the world on the Dubai Marathon Youtube channel –


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