Running: Birthday girl Mergia seals winning return to Dubai Marathon
- Updated: January 23, 2015
January 23, 2014: Aselefech Mergia celebrated her 30th birthday with a spectacular return to the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, where she won her third title in the emirate following a nail-biting finish to the world’s richest marathon.
Lemi Berhanu, a decade younger, was the surprise winner of the men’s race as Ethiopians dominated the podiums on a warm day in Dubai, where superstar Kenenisa Bekele dropped out before the end of the race.
Mergia was competing in her first marathon since 2012 after taking time off competition to have a baby and the Ethiopian crowned her comeback by winning the most thrilling finish in the marathon’s history in a time of 2:20:02.
In a duel right to the line, Mergia won by one second from Gladys Cherono, the reigning World Half Marathon Championship winner making her marathon debut, while fellow Kenyan Lucy Kabuu was third in 2:20:21.
“I told myself after having my daughter that I could win a marathon again,” said Mergia, who won back-to-back titles in Dubai in 2011 and 2012. “We used the prize money from my first two wins in Dubai to begin building a hotel back home. Now we’ll be able to complete the job!”
Berhanu, 20, left behind some of the biggest names in long-distance running as he finished in 2:05:28 to win by 24 seconds from Lelisa Desisa, the 2013 Dubai and Boston champion. Deribe Robi completed an-all Ethiopian podium with a time of 2:06:06.
“I never would have thought that I could win this race,” said Berhanu, who collected his trophy from HH Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Mohsin Nathani, CEO of Standard Chartered UAE. “It was my dream to do this in Dubai one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen this year. With around one kilometre to go, I sensed that I could win.”
Berhanu has now improved by more than five minutes and is unbeaten in two races. “If my federation selects me then I would really like to run the marathon in the World Championships in the summer,” added Berhanu, who said he had no idea what to do with the prize money of US$200,000. “I never thought about the money. I really don’t know what I will do with it.”
Bekele, 32, ran in the lead group up to the 28km point, but dropped back quickly and finally stopped shortly after 30km appearing to suffer from a leg injury.
Renato Canova, Bekele’s coach, said: “Kenenisa suffered hamstring problems in both legs, but I think the real problem is in his right Achilles tendon. At the end of November he had to reduce training because of this.
“A world record was never a realistic target, but a 2:04 time seemed realistic. When I saw him running today he did not look relaxed, he looked tight, which is why he developed hamstring problems. But I remain very confident for his future marathon career – I think he will do really well.”
A record field of more than 25,000 runners entered the marathon, the 10km road race and the 4km fun run. In the 10km men’s event, Fikad Kibreab of Eritrea won in 29:56, finishing ahead of Habtom Welderufael (29:58), also from Eritrea, and Morocco’s Ihya Ben Youssef (30:18). Ruqiya Alkhaja (30:47) of the UAE won the women’s 10km ahead of Eritrea’s Rahma Abas (37:46) and Latifa Essarokh (37:47) of France.
Olympians Lord Sebastian Coe and Haile Gebrselassie, HE Mattar Al Tayer, Vice Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council, HE Saeed Hareb, General Secretary of the Dubai Sports Council, and Ahmad Al Kamali, UAE Athletics Federation President and IAAF Member, were among the dignitaries watching the race.
In addition to Standard Chartered as title sponsor, the Dubai Marathon was supported by the Dubai Sports Council, adidas, Dubai Eye 103.8FM, Sport 360, Masafi, Dubai Holding, Dubai Police and the RTA.
Source: Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon (www.dubaimarathon.org); Editing by SportAsia