Jobannie C. Tabada
DUBAI—In 2008 it was too hot. It rained in 2009. This year it was a mysterious aching back. Haile Gebrselassie claimed his third straight championship in as many tries in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, but his bid to secure a new world record in this Gulf City—and the $1- million bonus that comes with the feat—continues to be derailed by a variety of obstacles.
The Ethiopian running legend swept past the finish line in two hours, six minutes, nine seconds, more than two minutes off his own world record of 2:03:59, which he established in the 2008 Berlin marathon.
Shortly after completing the flat, out-and-back 42.2-kilometer course that spans the upscale villas along Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Road, Gebrselassie complained of back problems that he said he might have sustained during his sleep.
“I still cannot bend,” he grumbled after the race. “I did not have a good sleep last night. I was watching TV and then I slept in the wrong position – on my stomach.”
When he woke up on race day, Gebrselassie said his back felt sore, which forced him to work with his physical therapist a little more than usual before the 6:30 a.m. starting gun.
“In the first 15 kilometers, I was just checking myself and listening to my body. After the half-way point, I tried to change gear but couldn’t do it. So I decided that I would
just focus on winning the race and forget about the world record,” Gebrselassie said, referring to the effect of the back problem on his world-record bid.
“When the pace runners stopped around 30 kilometers, I just waited for somebody to make a move.”
It was a resilient Chala Dechase Beyene of Kenya who kept Gebrselassie’s focus simply on winning as the eventual runner-up gave chase all the way, and managed to pull even each time the Ethiopian champion tried to break away in the last 10 kilometers.
Beyene got head-to-head one last time with Gebrselassie in the last two kilometers before the champion upped the tempo to stay in front for good.
“That’s the time when I moved really fast,” he said on his sudden burst of energy in the final two kilometers. “That guy who finished second, he’s really very strong and he was really trying to push me.”
Despite a career-threatening back problem and being foiled a third time by unforeseen circumstances – the early morning heat slowed him down in the final stretch in 2008, while a heavy downpour forced him to run a cautious race in 2009 – Gebrselassie said his career as an elite runner is far from over.
“If you think my career is over, no way,” said Gebrselassie, who received $250,000 for his championship finish this year.
Beyene clocked 2:06:33 at second and received $100,000, while Ethiopian Eshetu Wendimu Tsige was third in 2:06:46 and won $50,000.
In the women’s division, Mamitu Daska Molisa (2:24:18) collapsed as she crossed the finish line, securing the first prize just eight seconds ahead of her Ethiopian compatriot Aberu Kebede Shewaye (2:24:26). Kenya’s Helena Loshanyang Kirop, last year’s second runner, kept her standing with a time of 2:24:54.
A total of $1 million in cash prizes were awarded to the winners of the men’s and women’s division, while a $1 million bonus was offered to the runner who would set a world record.