Tola on top in Dubai Marathon as Bekele falters

Ethiopian athletes dominate in Dubai but world record bid is derailed on the start line, writes Iain Spragg

Tamirat Tola set a new personal best and new course record to win the 18th Dubai Marathon but there was painful disappointment for compatriot Kenenisa Bekele after he fell at the beginning of the race and ultimately failed to finish.

In posting a victorious time of 2:04:11, Tola became the ninth fastest athlete ever over the distance and Ethiopia’s third quickest marathoner of all time but the 25-year-old’s joy was in sharp contrast to Bekele’s dejection after failing to set a new world record.

A former Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m gold medallist, Bekele had set the second best marathon time in history in Berlin last year, but his hopes of becoming the fastest man ever over 26 miles and 385 yards were dashed in Dubai when he was accidentally tripped on the starting line. He later pulled up with a calf injury.

“I came to Dubai to do something special, however it was not to be,” he said. “But after a hard fall just after the start, my body was out of balance and I got cramps in my left calf trying to run at world-record pace. I like to prepare for many scenarios, but this was definitely not one of them. I just hope to come back to Dubai one day and show what I can do here.”

His early misfortune opened the door for Tola and the Olympic bronze medallist over 10,000m in Rio last year took full advantage. At the halfway stage he was 45 seconds ahead of world-record pace but slowed in the closing stages and eventually finished more than two minutes clear of compatriot Mule Wasihun.

“The pace was very fast at the start,” Tola said. “The 15k time was much too fast but when we saw that Kenenisa was well behind, I became more confident. I’m happy to win but I think I could have run under 2.04.”

It was an Ethiopian top four in the elite men’s event but the country’s women were even more dominant in their race with the top nine athletes in Dubai this year hailing from the all-conquering east African nation.

Marathon debutante Worknesh Degefa was the story of the day as the 26-year-old made a mockery of her inexperience over the distance to take the tape in a winning time of 2:22:36, the fourth fastest in the race’s history. She became the 11th Ethiopian woman in succession to triumph in Dubai.

Degefa had compatriot Shure Demise for company for much of the race but mustered a decisive turn of speed in the closing stages to pull away and finish 21 seconds clear of her more experienced rival.