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Ayele Abshero and his Ethiopian colleagues turned the marathon tide substantially in a sizzling 2012 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon which rewrote the record books.
Abshero, just turned 21, ran the fastest winning debut in history, taking the title in an event record time of 2:04:23 – the fourth fastest in history – while the top three finishers in the women’s event, won by defending champion Asselefech Mergia Medessa, all smashed the 2:20:00 barrier.
Abshero, the 2009 Junior Cross Country World Champion, also established himself as a leading contender for Ethiopia’s Olympic trio – if not victory at London 2012 – as he headed an Ethiopian 1-2-3, with Dino Sefir second in 2:04:50, and Markos Geneti third in 2:04:54, both personal bests.
The quality of the performances was such that based on the final finishing times, the $1 million race featured the greatest marathon field in history. Never before in marathon history have more than three men broken 2:05 on a legal course yet here in Dubai four men broke that mark. Best marks-for-place were set for positions from third through to 17th, making it arguably the greatest marathon ever in terms of depth.
The Kenyans who carried all before them last year in the marathon world were firmly rebuffed. Jonathon Maiyo placed fourth, in 2:04:56, but he was the only non-Ethiopian in the top ten, most of whom set personal bests. Pre-race favourite Martin Lel dropped off the lead group before 30k, but soldiered on to finish 35th in 2:34:57.
It was an Ethiopian red letter day all round with Medessa defending her Dubai title, running an Ethiopian and course record, with a personal best of 2:19:31, finishing just ahead of Kenyan debutante Lucy Kabuu, a further three seconds adrift. Again Ethiopians dominated, with Mare Dibaba third in a personal best 2:19:52.
Abshero, whose most notable feat apart from his world junior cross victory was beating Kenenisa Bekele in a 15km road race three years ago, maintained that his finishing time was his target.
“I thought I could run 2:04 today,” he said after receiving his trophy and the winner’s cheque of $250,000 from His Excellency Abdulrahman Al Owais, the UAE Minister of Health and Culture, Youth and Community Development, and Jonathan Morris, Standard Chartered CEO in the UAE.
“But it’s hard to plan for your first marathon as I really just didn’t know what was going to happen. But I’m very happy. I’m now the number one in Ethiopia, and I think it could be the Olympic Games for me.”
Abshero’s time is only headed by Kenyans Patrick Makau – with his world record 2:03:38 – and Wilson Kipsang (2:03:42) and his illustrious colleague Haile Gebrselassie (2:03:59). But shattering Geb’s Dubai course record by 30 seconds has cemented his place in the emirate’s sporting history.
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and staged under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon saw around 17,000 runners compete in the marathon, the 10km and the 3km Fun Run but few received as loud a cheer as Medessa and Kabuu who provided a thrilling end to the women’s marathon.
“I know the course so I felt confident,” said Medessa, who edged out Kabuu by just three seconds. “I prepared well and I’m delighted with 2:19. I’m now the best Ethiopian – and with a time like that, I hope to be selected for the Olympic Games”.
It was the first time in international marathon history where three women have all ran under 2:20:00 underlining the event’s IAAF Gold Label status and its standing as one of the greatest marathon stages in the world. As with the men’s event, the women’s race saw incredible depth and best marks-for-place were set for positions third through to ninth. The top ten men all set personal bests, while the top seven women did likewise.
In the women’s 10km event there was a second consecutive victory for UAE Olympic hopeful Betty Desalyn who warmed up for the Asian Indoor Games with a time of 34:14, while Eritrean Tekle Sahle took the men’s title in 28:47.
“I’m very happy to win for the second time,” said 20 year-old Desalyn, who is targeting Olympic qualification in London in both the 1,500 and 5,000m. “I’ve been training hard in Ethiopia and will go to China for the Asian Indoors before looking ahead to London.”
The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is supported by The Dubai Sports Council, Dubai Holding, “Official Outfitter” adidas, Emaar, Dubai Eye 103.8 FM, Sport 360, TNT, Fitness First, Plan B and by government departments Dubai Police, RTA, Dubai Municipality DHA and the Dubai Ambulance Services.