DUBAI, January 23 – Ethiopia’s Aselefech Mergia, the Dubai course record holder, returning from a pregnancy, and Kenya’s Gladys Cherono, the reigning World Half Marathon champion, making her marathon debut, waged an epic final-stretch duel with Mergia claiming the win.
The Ethiopian cut the tape in 2:20:02 to pocket Sh18.4m (USD200, 000) while Cherono crossed a second ahead in 2:20:03 to receive Sh7.3m (USD 80,000).
Both performances were special. Mergia, who set the course record of 2:19:31 here in 2012, hadn’t raced a marathon since the 2012 Olympics after taking 2013 off to have a baby and struggling in 2014.
She now becomes the first woman to win Dubai three times while Cherono very nearly won Dubai and its massive first-place prize in her marathon debut.
–How it went down-
Initially, it looked as if this could be a wire-to-wire victory as 27-year old Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia, the 2014 Ottawa and Shanghai champ with a Personal Best of 2:21:52, broke away almost immediately and had a gap on the field of almost a minute by 15km.
The problem was that Tufa was going extremely fast: at 21km, she was all alone on 2:18:00 pace (there was no official 21.1 km split), a time only Paula Radcliffe has surpassed.
There was no one with her as the male pacers were with the main pack. Tufa began to slow down but it still for a while looked like she might be able to hold on. However, with the help of male pacers, a group of five women caught and passed Tufa just after the 34km mark (1:35:08 into the race). By 36km, they had 47 seconds on her.
Tufa would later drop out, receiving no money for her brave, though perhaps foolhardy effort.
Eventually, three women remained from that pack: Aselefech Mergia, who set the course record of 2:19:31 in 2012; Lucy Kabuu, who finished just three seconds back of Mergia on that day; and Cherono.
The action really heated up at 40km as Kabuu and Cherono both went for their bottles at the final station while Mergia used that opportunity to surge ahead. Kabuu could not recover, but Cherono gradually made up ground over the next 200 meters and drew level with Mergia.
Those two would not be separated by more than a few meters for the rest of the race; anytime Mergia drew in front, Cherono countered the move. As they neared the finish line, Mergia had a stride or two on Cherono and the Kenyan couldn’t quite manage to make up the gap, with Mergia barely holding her off by one second, 2:20:02 to 2:20:03.
In all, 10 women broke 2:24 in one of the deepest races in marathon history.
Both Cherono and Kabuu went for their final bottle at 40k and it didn’t work out for Kabuu as she was dropped when Mergia immediately surged. Cherono made up the ground on Mergia and sat on her for the rest of the race but was never able to pass her, ultimately losing by one second.
The race was incredibly fast and deep. It was just a tiny bit slower than the 2012 Dubai race up front which set the record for fastest 3rd through 5th place finishers in history.