Kenenisa Bekele targets maiden marathon triumph

The Olympic legend will be the man to beat in Dubai after a stunning display in last year’s Berlin Marathon, reports Iain Spragg

The 2017 Dubai Marathon may have attracted a record field of more than 30,000 runners for the 18th staging of the race but all eyes will be on Kenenisa Bekele this Friday when the in-form Ethiopian mounts his bid to be crowned champion for the first time.

A three-time Olympic gold medallist over 5,000m and 10,000m, Bekele sent shockwaves through athletics ranks in September when he ran 2:03:03 in the German capital, the second fastest time ever over the distance and just six seconds shy of the world record set by Kenya’s Dennis Kipruto in 2014.

His incredible performance came only two years after making his competitive debut over 26 miles and 385 yards and, despite his relative inexperience in the event, the 34-year-old believes his best is yet to come.

“The Berlin race was fantastic but I could see that I still had to make a couple of changes in my training to improve,” he says. “I knew I had trained well and I knew what my strengths were.”

Bekele, however, will face stiff competition in the elite men’s race from compatriot Tsegave Mekonnen, a winner in Dubai in 2014 and third last year, and should either athlete seal victory it would continue Ethiopia’s remarkable dominance of the event with the last five winners hailing from the east African nation.

“It’s a massive boost to have Kenenisa confirmed for the 2017 staging of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon,” said event director Peter Connerton. “His performance in Berlin proves that he is now very comfortable at the distance.”

The elite women’s race is expected to be a similar story of Ethiopian pre-eminence with the country having produced the last 10 champions and this year’s leading contenders will be the duo of Shure Demise and Meselech Melkamu.

Both Ethiopian athletes are yet to triumph on the roads in Dubai but 20-year-old Demise proved her pedigree when she finished fourth in 2015 as well as winning the last two Toronto Marathons. The 31-year-old Melkamu, meanwhile – who is a multiple World Cross Country Championships medallist and former 10,000m specialist – was runner-up in this race three years ago.

“I want to reach times in the marathon that are as good as the results I achieved in the 10,000m,” said Melkamu.

The Ethiopian contingent is further strengthened by the inclusion of Tadelech Bekele, who was seventh in Dubai in 2015, and Arage Yebrgual, the 2015 Boston Marathon champion.

The Dubai Marathon starts at 6:30am on 20 January