DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Ethiopia ruled the Dubai Marathon on Friday, its men taking the four top spots and its women capturing the top six.
Lelisa Desisa won the men’s race by three seconds in his marathon debut, overtaking Berhanu Shiferaw in the final half mile. He finished in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 45 seconds. Tadese Tola was third and Endeshaw Negesse fourth.
For the first time, five runners had sub-2:05 times, beating the record set last year in Dubai when four runners managed it. About 20,000 runners competed.
Tirfi Tsegaye won the women’s race in 2:23:23, with Kiros Reda 16 seconds behind. They were followed by compatriots Amane Gobena, Aheza Kiros, Belaynesh Oljira and Shitaye Bedasa.
Desisa was among six runners following Shiferaw most of the race. The pack was reduced from 10 to six after 20 miles and Desisa moved past Shiferaw with about a half mile left. He extended his lead with 200 yards to go and won by three seconds.
“To run my first marathon in 2:04, I’m very surprised,” said Desisa, a 10,000-meter specialist who plans to use his $200,000 prize money to build a house and get married. “With the huge amount of money and my time, this has changed my life in one day.”
Desisa was 22 seconds off last year’s record time on the relatively flat course in cool and foggy conditions. Ethiopian men have won the $1 million race five of the past six years.
The field of Kenyans was not as strong as past years, however, with stars like three-time London Marathon winner Martin Lel and Chicago Marathon winner Moses Mosop pulling out at the last minute.
“With one kilometer to go, I tried to push but all the guys were remaining there,” Desisa said. “So I decided to wait for the last lap because all the guys are marathon runners and I’m a track runner. I know I’m better than them at kicking so I went with 200 meters remaining.”
Last year’s race record was set by Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero, who was also running his first marathon. The top four runners beat the previous record set in 2008 by Haile Gebrselassie of 2:04:53.
Tsegaye’s victory follows a victory at last year’s Paris Marathon and a second-place finish in Berlin. She got plenty of tips from training partner Asselefech Mergia, who won the race the previous two years in Dubai. Tsegaye was hoping to beat the record of 2:19:31 by Mergia last year.
“In the first half of the race, I tried to aim for 2:20, but in the second part the weather conditions changed and I felt hot,” she said. “When I tried to push, I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I wanted to break the course record, but because of the weather conditions I couldn’t. Next year, I’ll try and break the record.”