The 2008 Dubai Marathon Preview
By Sharon Ekstrom
Following four days of record rains and flooding which is a rarity for Dubai, race officials expect "the weather to cooperate" for the 2008 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon. The race will be the richest marathon in the worldand also has on offer the largest prize purse ever for a running event. Both men's and women's winners will receive $250,000 USD which is double the largest prize offered at any other race. There is an additional time bonus of one million dollars to anyone breaking the marathon world record of 2:04:26 which was set by Haile Gebrselassie at the 2007 Berlin Marathon. What better incentive to entice Gebrselassie (also known as "Geb") plus many dreamers to the 2008 race? With the prize money and incentives, it is no surprise that Gebrselassie is the main draw.
Having seen extreme weather conditions wreak havoc on marathons such as Boston, the World Championships in Udine and Chicago throughout 2007, weather is still a factor going into 2008. In Dubai the unrelenting rains and winds reaching 25 knots have been a concern for the week leading up to the event - a concern to both race organizers and athletes. The previous monthly record for rain in Dubai was 81.9 millimetres (3.5 inches). In the four days preceeding the race, Dubai received 110 millimetres (4.5 inches) bringing the city to a standstill with flooding and traffic delays, but predicted forecasts as of press time indicate no rain and cooler temperatures which are ideal for a marathon and, possibly, a new world record. Geb tells us that the weather will not factor into his race. "I've been coming here nine years and this is the first time I have seen rain. It's good. It cleans the air."
Behind the Scenes of the Race
With top prize money on the offer and top level athletes highlighting the field, the Dubai Marathon has become a top-tier race growing in record numbers in record time. In its ninth year, the Dubai Marathon's success has come from title sponsor Standard Chartered along with the full support and patronage of governing leader HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and the support of the government sanctioned Dubai Sports Council. The Dubai Sports Council is focusing on growth in all sports industries in order to make Dubai a powerhouse in sports from swimming to running to ice hockey to promote the city as well as a healthy athletic lifestyle. They are aware that the prize purse is a draw, but they don't want to boast about it. "We want to promote what athletes can bring to the sport and community around the world," says Dr. Ahmet Sayid from the Sports Commission which was created by the government two years ago to promote all sports Dubai. They are currently building a $800MM swimming complex for the 2010 Swimming Championships. They are happy with the growth in the marathon and look to have added participants in the future and involved families by establishing a kid's run. They want to promote sports as a lifestyle.
In anticipation of the world record, official course measurer Paul Hodgson (a Grade "A" Course Measurement Official with the Association of International Marathons and Road Races (AIMS) has measured the route and slightly altered the previous course making it flatter and faster and offering more room at the turn around point. Also four pacemakers are ready to go, two of whom - Fabiano Joseph and Rodgers Rop - helped to pace Geb to the current world record.
Top Rivalries: Ethiopia v. Kenya
Highlighting the field is world champion and three time Olympian Gebrselassie confident that his world record of 2:04:26 from the 2007 Berlin Marathon was meant to be broken. Adding needed competition to the field is Kenyan Sammy Korir (KEN, 36) best known as the pacemaker who led Paul Tergat to the 2003 World Record and himself achieved the second fastest finish in the world at the time, just one second behind Tergat. Since Geb's record, Korir's rank has moved to third on the all-time list with that 2:04.56. Geb and Korir are veteran runners with long careers. Geb was best known for his astounding track history dating back to 1994 and has set a world record in almost every distance. Korir, a half marathon and marathon specialist, has run approximately ten marathons since 1996, including eight sub 2:09 finishes. Geb's marathon resume includes five sub 2:07 finishes as well as five wins in the half marathon distance dating back to 2001.
Also in the men's field are defending champion Willy Rotich (KEN, 28), Martin Fagan (IRE, 24), European record holder Benoit Zwierchwiewski also known as Benoit Z, (FRA, 31) who led the pack at the 2007 Dubai Marathon before dropping out and is the 16th fastest man in Marathon history and co-holder with Portugal's Antonio Pinto of the Marathon European Record of 2:06:36. Benoit Z is looking to break the standing European record - his finish 2:06:36 at the 2003 Paris Marathon. Fagan, a Providence College graduate had moved from Connecticut to Arizona this winter hoping to get Ireland's Olympic qualifying time (2:15) at his marathon debut at the 2008 Houston Marathon. However, US emigration sent Fagan home to avoid having to spend two days in a holding cell.
The women's field is heating up with the showdown between Berhane Adere (ETH, 34) and Lornah Kiplagat (NETH, 33). Adere, two-time winner of the 2006 and 2007 Chicago Marathon, has a personal best time and Ethiopian National Record of 2:20:42 from the 2006 Chicago race. Her 2006 finish made her ninth fastest woman marathoner in the world with the fifteenth fastest time. Extremely strong in the marathon, Adere's 2007 finishes were thirteen plus minutes off her PR. Rival in the field, Kenyan born, Dutch citizen, Lornah Kiplagat currently holds the world's best times for both the 20km in a 62:57 and the half-marathon in a 66:25 both at the at the 2007 IAAF World Road Running Championships in Udine Kiplagat was also crowned World Cross Country Champion in her original homeland of Kenya in late 2007. Stellar in the half-marathon distance with the third and fourth fastest times (66:25 in Udine in tough conditions and 66:34 in Lisbon respectively), Kiplagat has yet to truly prove herself in the marathon distance but following such a strong 2007, it is possible. Kiplagat's personal best is 2:22:22 at the 2003 Osaka International Ladies Marathon where she placed fourth. Yet recently, Kiplagat had to put training in the back of her mind while tending to the athletes at her training camp and her own well being during the violence following the political election in Kenya that had hit close to home - her high altitude training camp in Iten. Also worth mentioning is 2007 defending champion Askale Magarsa (ETH, 23) who set a course record at the 2007 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon running solo from 11k to a finish of 2.27.19. With a personal best of 2:25:07 at the 2007 Paris Marathon, Magarsa who is only twenty-three has much room for growth. The outcome of the race could be anyone's guess.
The 2008 Dubai Marathon promises much excitement - a possible new world record, some great head-to-heads at an event that continues to draw international attention. As written in a race press release the 2008 Dubai Marathon will be "a true battle of the thoroughbreds". With top elites headlining the race and defending champions returning as well, one this is certain - a marathon is more than luck, it is mastery.
"A Marathon is not an easy effort. Friday will be a special day for all of us." Says Gebrselassie with a smile like he knows what is coming.