In the hype leading up to the 2014 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, which was run earlier today (January 24) on what the Khaleej Times described as a new “dream course,” much of the talk centered on the possibility of a new world record.
Almost none of the chatter was about eventual winner Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa, an 18-year-old Ethiopian making his 26.2-mile debut.
Asefa’s name appears nowhere in the Khaleej Times preview, even though the piece focuses largely on Ethiopia’s recent dominance in the event, so spectators may well have been surprised when the teen was among a pack of 15 runners who crossed the halfway point on a world record pace of 61:39.
Alas, the group couldn’t keep the momentum, and Asefa wound up winning with a time of 2:04:32—1:09 slower than Wilson Kipsang’s world record of 2:03:23 at the 2013 Berlin Marathon. In that sense, Asefa fell short—but according to Let’s Run, he wasn’t too upset. In fact, he gave a victory fist pump with two kilometers to go, when he realized he’d shaken countryman Markos Geneti, who was his sole remaining challenger after the 36K mark.
Prior to this race, Asefa had a half-marathon personal best of 62:53, and his most notable finish had been a fifth-place finish at the World Juniors in 2012. Today’s sub-2:05 performance promises to be a “life-changing victory,” according to Let’s Run, as he’s pocketed $200,000 and taken a major step toward becoming the next marathon superstar.
As impressive as the pace was at the race’s midpoint, it was even more jaw-droppingly fast in the early going. Unconfirmed reports have the lead pack passing the 5K and 10K clocks at 13:42 and 29:04 respectively. Had even the 10K pace held, the winners would have crossed in 2:02:38 and smashed Kipsang’s record; the 5K pace would have produced a rather unlikely result of 1:55:24!
But things slowed down from there, and at 30K, the lead pack had shrunk to nine men, and the pace had cooled to a projected 2:04:07 finish.
Asefa went uncontested in the final stages, and his win came ahead of a following wave of Ethiopian runners. Geneti, who finished third here two years ago, held on for second, crossing in 2:05:13, and their countryman Birhanu Gebru claimed the final podium spot with a time of 2:05:49.
In all, Team Ethiopia earned eight of the top 10 positions, giving their country reason to be proud—and perhaps hopeful for an eventual world record.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg