Dubai Marathon: Athletes race to London 2012

Sports fans will be turning their attention to the Dubai Marathon this weekend, as athletes attempt to secure a qualification time for London 2012. Rob Furber presents a run-down of the ones to watch

The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon will take centre stage on 27 January, as the world's top distance athletes target the race as a key stepping stone in their preparations for London 2012.

With the Summer Games a mere six months away, the flat Dubai course is seen as an ideal opportunity to secure a good time and potential Olympic qualification.

Defending men's and women's champions – Kenya's David Barmasai and Asselefech Medessa of Ethiopia – will both line up again. Also leading the way in the men's race will be Deriba Merga of Ethiopia and Kenya’s Martin Lel.

Thirty-one-year-old Merga, winner of the Boston Marathon in 2009, was fourth in the men's marathon at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and will be determined to make the podium in London. Lel, now 33, is one of the great marathon runners of recent times. A three-time winner of the London Marathon (2005, 2007, 2008) he finished fifth in Beijing, and will also have his sights on winning a medal in London.

The Dubai Marathon is always a key date on the distance running calendar and has been won in the past by legendary athletes including three-time winners Wilson Kibet of Kenya (2000-2002) and Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie (2008-2010).

Worth US$1m in prize money – the winners of the men's and women's race collecting a quarter of a million each – the marathon route takes runners past some of Dubai's most iconic locations, starting in the shadow of Burj Khalifa, travelling along Doha Street and sweeping past famous landmarks including the Dubai Mall and Dubai World Trade Centre.