The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Friday is the first big road race of
the year, and the signing of the international bank as sponsor promises to give
the race equal status with the world class golf, horse-racing and tennis events
in the Gulf state, whose progressive policies have avoided the socio-political
problems of some of its neighbours.
The East African nations, Kenya and Ethiopia continue their struggle for
distance running supremacy a little closer to home than usual. Friday’s
race pits four-time Eindhoven (Netherlands) winner, Willy Cheruyiot of Kenya,
best time 2hr 8min 14sec, and colleague, Boaz Kimaiyo, twice winner of
Frankfurt (2.09.10), against Demissie Ashebir of Ethiopia, who clocked 2.09.14
in Rotterdam 2003.
The outsider is Tobias Hiskia of Namibia, who is still recovering from the
shocking death of his training partner, Ian Syster of South Africa, the 2.07.06
marathoner killed in a car crash along with his two-month old son on Christmas
Day. “Ian left two messages for me on the day he died,” said
Hiskia, who lives in South Africa. “He must have had something he wanted
to tell me. But when I called him back, he must have been driving. I would have
gone to his funeral this Saturday, but I’ll go and visit his mother when
I get back”.
Cheruyiot is just glad his brother, Wilson Chelal isn’t running. They
train together daily, but there are no holds barred in racing. “We only
raced once, last time in Eindhoven” says Cheruyiot, “we were
together all the way, but when we started racing at the end, I could sense I
was stronger”. Cheruyiot won by one second, and thinks with the right
conditions here on a flat course similar to Eindhoven, he could threaten the
course record of 2.09.33, set by another colleague, Joseph Kahugu in 2003.
The women’s course record is 2.33.31, set by Albina Ivanova of Russia
in 2002. Favourite to win and threaten that is Irina Bogacheva of Kyrgystan
whose best is 2.26.27, in finishing second in Boston 2000.
Standard Chartered have also ensured a bigger prize pot - over $150,00 this
year, with $25,000 to the winners, if they get under 2hr 12min for men, and 2hr
28min for women.