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- Rotich and Askale Make Return Date With World’s Richest Race -
Dubai (UAE): Just twelve months after lifting the men and women’s titles in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, Ethiopia’s Askale Tafa Magarsa and Willy Rotich of Kenya will return to defend their crowns when the world’s richest ever marathon hits the road on January 18.
The African duo outlasted the field to take gold in the 2007 event but they face a challenge of a different kind when they join the rest of the multi-national field at the start at Zabeel Park.
For not only will the route be slightly different from last year’s 42.2km track, the field will be the strongest ever seen in Dubai with winners’ cheques of $250,000 waiting at the finish line for both the men and women’s event.
“With a prize-fund of $1 million and a further $1 million cheque on the line for a new world record, the 2008 Standard Chartered Marathon will be the richest race in marathon history,” said the event’s General Co-ordinator Ahmed Al Kamali. “Last year, Willy and Askale were by far the best on the day and we are delighted to welcome our champions back for 2008 but they will have to be at their absolute best if they are to successfully defend their titles.”
Earlier this year, Rotich led home a pack of top Kenyan distance runners to take the title in 2h:09m:53s at an average speed of 19.5kmh. It was only the second time in the eight-year history of the event that an athlete has broken the 2h:10m barrier, although Rotich was still 20 seconds outside the Dubai record.
He might have gone faster, but he played a waiting game, duelling with outgoing champion Joseph Ngeny until 38km before breaking away. But although Rotich missed out on a Dubai record there was no such heartbreak for Askale with the 22 year-old destroying Albina Ivanova’s five-year old Dubai women’s best by more than six minutes.
Making it all the more astonishing was that Askale ran almost the entire race from the front beating the personal best she set in Milan in October 2006 by 38
seconds in the process. Averaging 17.2kmh, Askale won in 2h:27m:19s.
Both runners return to a new-look marathon. Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and staged under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon offers a total prize-fund of $1 million as well as an additional bonus of $1 million for a new world record, courtesy of Dubai Holding.
And Rotich has hinted at what may lie ahead as the clock counts down to the richest payday in marathon history. Following his victory, the Kenyan offered a tantalising assessment of what might be achieved in Dubai. “I think with the right people and good pacing, someone could do 2:05 here,” he said after receiving his winner’s medal from HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
There are few more “right people” than current world record holder Haile Gebrselassie who took 29 seconds off the previous world best when he set his new mark of 2:04:26 in Berlin two months ago and who is the red hot favourite to win in Dubai.
“Our field is shaping up nicely with a strong group of elite runners showing their commitment to Dubai,” added Al Kamali. “However, it’s not just about the big names and we are still welcoming amateurs for the marathon, the 10km and the 4km Fun Run who can register online at www.dubaimarathon.org or at any branch of Fitness First.