(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
New York, October 30, 2013 -- Firehiwot Dado, the 2011 ING New York City Marathon champion, describes November 6, 2011, as one of the best days of her life. On a picture-perfect morning, she ran her way to victory here, timing 2:23:15 to become the race's second women's champion from Ethiopia.
Though she had claimed the laurel wreath, Dado recalls the day for something more than winning. An old friendship with fellow Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba was rekindled, something the 29-year-old now cherishes very much.
"If there is anything I will never forget, it's that day because Buzunesh," Dado told reporters here today. "We grew up together. We were very close friends and running with her was, again, the happiest day of my life. I love her very much."
Nearly a decade ago, Dado and Deba ran in the village of Arsi Assella. Dado was a sprinter, Deba a 1500-meter runner. Though they focused on different distances, the two became friends as part of their village's police detention center club team.
In 2005, When Deba came to New York to live in the Bronx, the two lost contact. They wouldn't hear from one another until 2011, some seven years later, when they were in the city for the marathon.
"[In] 2011, I saw her [name] on the list, and I'm so happy. And I miss her. I miss her after seven years," said Deba. In the time between they last saw one another, Dado had transitioned to the marathon at the urging of her coach, while Deba had become a consistent road racer in America.
At that year's marathon, Dado and Deba ran side by side for nearly the entire race, working as one to reel in Kenya's Mary Keitany. Keitany had gone out at record pace and was far ahead in the distance. Remaining calm, the pair spoke and decided to make their run for the top spot together.
"After a certain amount of distance, we started talking," recalled Dado. "And Buzunesh was getting me water and she was trying to control Mary... she was encouraging us."
With little more than a mile to go, Dado caught Keitany, going on to win in 2:23:15. Four seconds behind came Deba in 2:23:19. Together they were on the podium, smiling as one; both had set career best times.
"2011 is -- I don't know," said Deba, trying to find the right words. "I [was] excited. At that time, I prepared very well, and I'm focused to win. But I lose, for second. I'm happy with second place."
Will the pair run together again this year?
"She's looking forward to that kind of race this time too," said Dado with a smile.
Race Results Weekly spoke with Dado's coach Haji Adilo on Tuesday. Adilo said that Dado is extremely focused and motivated to earn a second title, training between 150 and 180 kilometers (93-111 miles) a week. If she does indeed win, Dado will become the eighth woman in race history with multiple victories.
"New York is a special course for everybody. It's a special race because it is the biggest race in the world," he said. "I think every athlete wishes to win New York. I think that's why she wants to win two [times]."
Deba is primed and ready too. Having increased her mileage and put an emphasis on speed work, the 26-year-old will try and become the first New Yorker to win since 1974. She still resides in the Bronx, does her training here, and her personal best remains from the 2011 contest.
One thing is for certain: no matter what happens in Sunday's race, Dado and Deba are happy to be together. Today they dressed in the same pink Nike tracksuit and sported similar braids in their hair. Come Sunday, they could be together on the podium once again.
Photo: Buzunesh Deba and Firehiwot Dado before the 2013 ING New York City Marathon (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)