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01 March 2024

Ethiopian legend Bekele leads record line-up at Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon

enenisa Bekele will be the star attraction at the 16th edition of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. (Supplied)

By Allaam Ousman

Three-time Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele will be the star attraction at the 16th edition of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon which has attracted a record number of more than 30,000 runners.

Course records could well be under threat when Bekele leads a star cast of 120 elite athletes in the biggest single day mass participation event in the Middle East on Friday January 23.

Held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council, the 2015 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon will see competitors competing over three distances with the marathon getting underway at 7.00am, the 10km Road Race at 7.15am and the 4km Fun Run at 11.00am.

Legendary Ethiopian Kenenisa will be under no illusion about the quality of the challenge awaiting him in the world’s richest marathon. The superstar of the track will face a contingent of world-class runners, including three athletes who have faster times for the classic 42.195km distance.

Saeed Hareb, General Secretary of the Dubai Sports Council, said the event was one of the biggest on the Dubai calendar.

“We have many great sporting events in Dubai but this is one of the biggest and the best,” he said at a pre-event press conference on Wednesday. “It is a day for everyone in the city to take part and to run alongside the best in the world making Dubai the capital of sport.”

The man with the best time in the field is Kenenisa’s compatriot Lelisa Desisa, who won the Dubai title on his debut in 2013 in 2:04:45. In all, a total of 21 runners will be on the start line with personal bests under 2:10.

The women’s field is also impressively strong, headed by Dubai course record holder Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia who ran 2:19:31 for victory in 2012. A close runner-up on that occasion was Kenyan Lucy Kabuu, who ran 2:19:34 on her marathon debut and is also back in Dubai.

Six men with personal bests of under 2:06 will be among the contenders on Dubai’s fast course.

After his sensational debut in Dubai two years ago, Lelisa Desisa has continued his impressive marathon form.

Firstly he won the Boston Marathon and then finished second at the World Championship in the summer of 2013. His flow of success was maintained with second place in New York for the 25-year-old.

Also lining up on Friday will be the man who finished just three seconds behind the winner in Dubai two years ago, Berhanu Shiferaw.

Feyisa Lelisa is the third Ethiopian on the start list with a personal best under 2:05, while Bekele will continue his marathon experience with just the third 42.195km of his meteoric career after a winning debut at the Paris Marathon (2:05:04) last spring.

"I'm very happy to be making my debut in Dubai. My aim is to improve on my personal best," said Bekele.

The Dubai record time for men of 2:04:23 and Aselefech’s best of 2:19:31 will no doubt be in the sights of runners who have tasted international success across the globe.

But while the men and women at the front of the pack will have lofty ambitions, for thousands of others the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is yet another opportunity to achieve goals that may be more personal than sporting.

Mohsin Nathani, CEO, Standard Chartered Bank UAE said: “Globally, Standard Chartered Bank sponsors nine marathons in some of the most exciting cities across our footprint in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and the Dubai Marathon is very important for us. For the eleventh year, we are delighted to be the title sponsors of the Dubai Marathon which has become a world-class event bringing international athletes to compete and people from all walks of life to run for a reason. We are looking forward to another successful event on Friday.”

The appearance of Bekele was welcomed by Cedric Betis, Chairman of the Dubai Holding Wellness Committee - the Ethiopian superstar will run as Ambassador of the Dubai Holding Wellness Programme.

“It is a real honour for us to have Kenenisa run under the banner of Dubai Holding,” said Betis. “His record on the track speaks for itself and he is a true inspiration for our Corporate Wellness Programme and the 2,430 Dubai Holding employees who will run alongside him on Friday.”

Event Director Peter Connerton said the eyes of the athletics world will be on the race, such is the stardust sprinkled by Kenenisa after a career that has garnered 18 World Championship titles.

“This year’s race will be beamed live to a global audience of millions thanks to our agreement with Dubai Sports Channel, our host broadcaster, and IEC in Sports, who will provide international distribution, satellite transmission and enhanced production services,” he said.

“Major overseas broadcasters have already confirmed their intention to show the race live including Direct TV Latin America, Sky Mexico, SuperSport, Zuku Sports and Fox Sports Asia, with more to follow.”

Asked whether records would be set this year, Connerton said: "Dubai Marathon is not about world records. It is about pushing the boundaries of sports and marathon and also promoting the city of Dubai."

The race will also be broadcast and streamed live on the official website www.dubaimarathon.org as well as on Dubai Sports Channel.

UAE Athletic Federation President Ahmed Al Kamali said he was delighted with the line-up for the 16th staging of the event.

“We have marathon champions who have won in cities such as Boston, New York, Paris, LA, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Houston, Beijing, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Prague, and of course Dubai. It’s a field packed with talent and experience and I expect one of the best races we have ever seen in the UAE,” said Al Kamali who was won a top award at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Creative Sports Awards.

All runners will also be able to enjoy new online features, which will allow family and friends to follow them during the run and afterwards, thanks to the mika:timing Facebook timing ticker - details have been provided to every runner with their run number confirmation.

“adidas is proud to be partnering with the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon 2015,”  added Jad Chouman, Brand Director, adidas Middle East and North Africa. “This is our fifth consecutive year working with the organisers and we are delighted to see how much the running community in the UAE has grown. Regardless of ability, we want to give every runner the technology that will help them achieve their personal best – whether it’s in Boston, Berlin, London or Dubai.”

In addition to Standard Chartered as title sponsor, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is supported by the Dubai Sports Council, adidas, Dubai Eye 103.8FM, Sport 360, Masafi, Dubai Holding, Dubai Police and the RTA.