DUBAI: Lelisa Desisa and Tirfi Tsegaye stormed to victory in an Ethiopian clean sweep at a fog-wrapped Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Friday.
It was Ethiopians all the way as they swept their Kenyan rivals from the board in both men’s and women’s races on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard.
Desisa, 23, only got away from his rivals in the final 200m as the marathon debutant won in 2:04:45, for the 13th fastest time in history — and with four other men close behind, the quintet beat last year’s Dubai record of being the first marathon in history to feature four sub-2.05 men. Long-time race leader Berhanu Shiferaw was second in 2:04:48, while another compatriot, veteran Tadesse Tola clocked a personal best 2:04:49 in third.
The early fog for the 7am start dissipated when the leaders hit the coast after eight kilometres, but on the lengthy stretch down the beach road, the fog returned even thicker, bringing high humidity with it.
“I tried to push the pace at 38k,” said Desisa, “but the others responded strongly, so I decided to wait until the end. I have a good sprint and I was confident that it would win me the race. I had aimed for 2:06 for my debut but when I saw the time at the finish I was shocked. If I can find a similarly good course, and my coach agrees, maybe next time I can go for the world record.”
By contrast, the women’s race lived up to predictions in all but the finishing time, according to the winner. Tirfi Tsegaye, who was a big pre-race favourite following her victory in Paris last year and a second place in Berlin last October, took the tape in 2:23:23 to follow the 2011 and 2012 Dubai wins of training partner Assefelech Mergia.
Tsegaye was always part of the leading group, but by 30k she was out on her own, and although slacking off in the final stages, still won by close to 20 seconds. Her colleagues, Ehitu Kiros and Amane Gobena gained ground on her in the last five kilometres, but finished behind her in that order, Kiros second in 2:23:39, and Gobena third, in 2:23:50.