Gebrselassie defends in Dubai (© organisers)
Torrential rain in the final stages ruined Haile Gebrselassie’s World Record attempt in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Friday morning. But the Ethiopian still took the $250,000 first prize, winning in 2:05:29, the eighth fastest in history. He already has the top three times.
On an uncharacteristically cool morning for the Gulf – the temperature stayed around 12C for the duration - The Ethiopian and his pacemakers encountered the first shower after just five kilometres in the 42.2k race. But even though Gebrselassie has said in the past that wet roads affect his running gait, it wasn’t evident as he averaged just over 2:56 per kilometre, and streaked through the half-marathon in 61:45.
That was right on the schedule he had planned for a new World Record, and some 20sec faster than he had run the ‘half’ in Berlin four months ago, when he set the current World Record of 2:03:59.
The course changes, with just four turns on an out-and-back up the coast road looked to be paying dividends, and approaching 30k, he was even faster, over half a minute up on schedule. But when the last of pacemakers dropped out at 32k, followed by the rain beginning in earnest, the pace dropped outside three minutes per kilometre. With his singlet plastered to his body, Gebrselassie was clearly uncomfortable going into the last half a dozen kilometres.
Nevertheless, he still won by over two minutes from compatriot, Edae Chimsa, who distinguished himself last year by paying his own way to the race, and finishing seventh. This year, he clocked a personal best of 2:07:54, and won $100,000. Third was another Ethiopian, debutant Wendimu Tsige, who has acted as a pacemaker for Gebrselassie in the past, but who clocked 2:08:41 here, and won $50,000.
For Haile, no regrets
Ever the optimist, Gebrselassie refused to be downhearted by what most saw as a reversal. “I’m really pleased with this performance,” he said at the press conference, “this is my best time in this sort of weather.
I’m not perfect for it. It’s not the rain from the sky, it’s the water on the ashphalt."
“I knew after halfway when we turned back, and felt the wind, and saw the rainclouds, it was gone (the record). There was a chance I could’ve dropped out, this weather is bad for hamstrings. This is better than Dubai last year (2:04:53) for me, so I’m happy.”
Bekele moves up a notch from 2008 - women's race
In contrast, the women’s race turned out to be as exciting as expected.
The threat to last year’s winner and race favourite, Berhane Adere also materialised, in the shape of 2008 runner-up, her colleague, Bezunesh Bekele, and the Kenyan, Helena Kiprop. Bekele, 25, and Kiprop, 33, swapped the lead heading a group of eight, while the 35-year-old Adere surveyed her rivals.
Shortly after 30k, she needed binoculars, because Bezunesh and Kiprop sped away such that they had forged a gap of 100 metres inside a kilometre. They traded the lead between them for another two kilometres, before Bekele opened up a similar gap on the Kenyan.
The women were even longer in the rain, so Bekele’s winning time of 2:24:02 was almost a minute outside her fourth fastest debut in history, 2:23:09 last year. But this was a mightily impressive performance from the youngster, and suggests that with Adere – who finished seventh – Gete Wami and Derartu Tulu being on the last lap of their careers, Bekele is the standard bearer for the new generation.
Another Ethiopian, Atsede Habtamu finished runner-up in her debut, in 2:25:17, relegating Kiprop to third in 2:25:35.
With even the tenth placer winning $10,000 (often a first place prize elsewhere), the overall prize pot is $500,000 each for men and women, making Dubai the world’s richest Marathon in terms of prizes. Had Gebrselassie broken his world record, he would have earned a million dollar bonus. As he said, “Next time!”
Pat Butcher for the IAAF
1. Haile Gebrselassie, (ETH) 2:05:29
2. Deressa Edae Chimsa, (ETH) 2:07:54
3. Eshetu Wendimu, (ETH) 2:08:41
4. Gashaw Melese, (ETH) 2:10:59
5. Dereje Tesfaye, (ETH) 2:11:42
6. David Kemboi, (KEN) 2:12:14
7. Mesfin Admasu, (ETH) 2:12:23
8. Tesfaye Tola, (ETH) 2:12:56
9. Asnake Fikadu, (ETH) 2:15:01
10. Nephat Ngotho, (KEN) 2:15:23
1. Bezunesh Bekele, (ETH) 2:24:02
2. Atsede Habtamu, (ETH) 2:25:17
3. Helena Kiprop, (KEN) 2:25:35
4. Tatyana Petrova, (RUS) 2:25:53
5. Genet Getaneh, (ETH) 2:26:37
6. Eyerusalem Kuma, (ETH) 2:26:51
7. Berhane Adere, (ETH) 2:27:47
8. Shuru Diriba, (ETH) 2:28:26
9. Atsede Baysa, (ETH) 2:29:13
10. Mulu Seboka, (ETH) 2:30:10