Dubai (UAE): With less than a week to go until Olympic legend Kenenisa Bekele makes his debut at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, the Ethiopian superstar is leaving nothing to chance as he prepares for the start on January 23.
Since signing up to run the world’s richest marathon as Ambassador of the Dubai Holding Wellness Programme, the three-time Olympic gold medalist has been training for hours every day in and around his home city of Addis Ababa.
And with no time off over the Christmas and New Year holidays, Kenenisa - under the watchful eye of renowned coach Renato Canova - is looking for at least a new personal best, despite the presence in Dubai of many of the world’s greatest marathon runners.
"There will certainly be at least ten to fifteen athletes to watch," he said. "My fellow Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa has already won both the Boston Marathon and the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon so he has shown himself to be a very strong athlete with great experience in marathons."
Although the Dubai race will be only the third marathon on Kenenisa’s CV, his reputation and achievements means the eyes of the athletics world will be on him when he adds the flat course of Dubai to his two marathon experiences of Paris and Chicago. In Paris, he won on his marathon debut with a course record and current personal best of 2h:05:04 - a time that would have taken second place in last year’s Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.
"I just want to go step-by-step in my marathon career," he added. "Dubai will be a very important race for me in terms of my personal best and I have already learned from racing in Paris and Chicago. But despite my achievements on the track and cross-country, I still have relatively little experience at the marathon distance."
Despite that relative inexperience, thousands are expected to line the route to cheer on one of the greatest sportsmen of all time in an event held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council.
Over the past few months, the 32 year-old Ethiopian has spent around four hours a day working on a mixture of training methods with coach Canova sprinkling the programme with endurance work and a running split of 80% road and forest running, 10% fitness and 10% strength.
"I’ve certainly worked hard with no time off during the holiday period," said Kenenisa, a man with 16 World Championship titles to his name. "I’m definitely ready for Dubai and looking forward to seeing everyone at the start line. I’ve heard so much about the course and the conditions - now is the time to see it for myself."
As well as those along the famous 42.195km route, organisers expect the grandstands to be packed from the early hours as running fans - especially those from Ethiopia - gather to show their respect for an athlete that is to distance running what Usain Bolt is to sprinting.
"I expect the grandstands to be full of singing Ethiopian fans by the time the runners take to the course at 7am," said Event Director Peter Connerton.
"It’s an incredible field with more than 20 men who have all run under 2:10 for the marathon. Kenenisa has already had a better start to his marathon career than other legends who have made the step up - including Paul Tergat and our three-time winner Haile Gebrselassie - so his participation here in Dubai has really caught the sport’s attention."
With an incredible legacy behind him and the kind of finishing speed at the end of a track race that ensures he remains a world record holder at both 5,000m and 10,000m, Kenenisa Bekele is sure of a hero’s welcome in Dubai next week.
In addition to Standard Chartered as title sponsor, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is supported by the Dubai Sports Council, adidas, Dubai Eye 103.8FM, Sport 360, Masafi, Dubai Holding, Dubai Police and the RTA. Runners still looking to enter for the marathon, the 10km Road Race or the 4km Fun Run can still register online only at DubaiMarathon.org.