Dubai (UAE): An unprecedented number of former winners will start the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon after reigning champion Lemi Berhanu Hayle and 2014 winner Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa confirmed their participation in the world’s richest marathon on January 22.
The announcement takes to six the number of athletes in the starting line-up who have won in Dubai with Berhanu and Mekonnen joining 2012 champion and course record holder Ayele Abshero in the men’s field. In the women’s event, the hugely-talented line-up will be led by former winners Mulu Seboka (2014), Tirfi Tsegaye (2013) and Mamitu Daska (2010).
Ethiopians Berhanu and Mekonnen will bring even more star quality to the race after both won in fantastic style on their official Dubai debuts.
Competing in only his second marathon, Berhanu destroyed a more experienced field to win last year in 2:05:28 and smash his personal best by five minutes, while Mekonnen’s 2014 win was even more sensational. The then 18 year-old set an unofficial world junior record in 2:04:32 in what was his first official marathon despite having run as a pacemaker in the 2013 race.
"The appearance of six former champions from Ethiopia underlines just how important Dubai rates in the racing calendar for the long distance elite runners," said Standard Chartered Event Director Peter Connerton.
"The records over the course speak for themselves - we were the first race in history to have ten men finish in sub-2:05 and we now have 11 - and the men and women know with perfect weather and a flat course there are very fast times to be had in Dubai."
Staged under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and held under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is the first world-class marathon of the Olympic year and for the elites offers a perfect platform for national team qualification.
As expected, the competition for places in Ethiopia’s Olympic squad for Rio 2016 will be fierce. And with all six former champions hailing from the African hotbed of distance running, the athletics spotlight will be on Dubai when around 30,000 runners gather in the emirate in two weeks time.
For 20-year old Mekonnen, the marathon’s fastest ever teenager, it means a return to a city that turned his world around just 24 months earlier. "The win in Dubai changed my life," he said. "I was able to buy a house in Addis Ababa, I bought a car to be able to go to the training venues and I stopped school to concentrate fully on running. It is a completely different life for me now."
Like his compatriot, Berhanu has fond memories of his victory in 2015. Twelve months ago, he emerged from a field that included running superstar Kenenisa Bekele to wrap up a comprehensive, if unexpected, victory. "I never thought that I could win the race," said Berhanu, who also won Poland’s Orlen Warsaw Marathon in 2015 (2:07:57). "It was my dream to do it in Dubai one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. With around one kilometre of the race to go, I sensed I could win."
Runners looking to compete in the Marathon, the 10km Road Race or the 4km Fun Run can still do so online through the official website www.dubaimarathon.org. In addition to Standard Chartered as title sponsor, the Dubai Marathon is supported by the Dubai Sports Council, adidas, Dubai Eye 103.8FM, Dubai Holding, Dubai Police and the RTA.
Former winners Lemi Berhanu Hayle (2015) and Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa (2014) will both compete in the 2016 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon