What was once a phenomenon – a pacemaker winning a marathon – is turning into a habit if not a tradition. Since the first major upset, in Los Angeles over a decade ago, it happens at least once a year. It was Joseph Ngeny’s turn to do the trick in Dubai, the Kenyan winning in hot and humid conditions, in 2.13.02.
Ngeny, 26, was only in the race, because the original Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon was postponed from January 6, following the death of the ruler, Sheikh Makhtoum.
But the Kenyan made his late entry count, and took his chance with both feet. He was due to pace to 30 kilometres, but approaching 27 kilometres, he called to his manager, who was following by car “I can finish?” Assured that he could, Ngeny - no relation to Noah, the Olympic 1500 metres champion from Sydney – “though we are friends” – shot away from the pack, and was heading for a time, which would have been well under the course record of 2.09.33, set by another Kenyan, Joseph Kahuga in 2003. But the rising heat and humidity put paid to that possibility.
“I saw the guys were a little bit slow, so I decided to finish,” said Ngeny afterwards. “But the last ten, twelve kilometres were difficult on my own, and it was a little bit hot here. My other two marathons were in Italy in October and December, much cooler conditions”.
That was something of an understatement. The six weeks delay in staging the event meant that the weather was much hotter than usual for the post-New Year event, and with temperatures rising towards 30C, Ngeny’s effort tailed off considerably in the final kilometres. But in cooler conditions, Ngeny, who trains with London and New York winner, Martin Lel, can obviously run much faster.
But he still had over a minute to spare on Ethiopian Giday Amha, who improved one place from last year, with his 2.14.25. And although another Kenyan, Elias Kemboi finished fastest of all, taking out five rivals in the last five kilometres, he began his effort too late, and was third in 2.15.01.
The women’s race also went to a Kenyan, Delilah Asiago, who won in 2.43.09. It was some sort of justice, since Asiago had been on her way to victory last year, when she succombed to stomach pains and vomiting in the final 800 metres, during which she was passed by Ethiopian Diribe Hunde.
But Asiago made no mistake this time. After a slowish first half, with six women still in contention, Asiago forced the pace throughout the second half, leaving one of the favourites, Shitaye Gemechu behind at 29 kilometres, and won easily.
Asiago has a had a chequered career. A decade ago, she was the best road runner on the North American circuit, winning 13 consecutive races at one stage. But her peripatetic lifestyle – she has also lived in Japan – provoked a decline in form, and though she has run a half dozen marathons, this, as with Ngeny, was her first victory.
Shitaye, who may have been racing too soon after winning the Rock’n’Roll Marathon in Phoenix a month ago was nevertheless almost two and half minutes down on Asiago, with 2.43.34. And, in third place, with 2.48.47, French-based Moroccan, Kenza Wahbi took advantage of a course misdirection in the final stages given to co-favourite, Luminita Talpos of Romania, who was followed by last year’s winner, Diribe and her colleague, Hirut Abera. Ngeny and Asiago won $25,000 each, with Ngeny also winning a car.
PLACE/BIB NAME COUNTRY/TIME
1 20 JOSEPH NGENY KEN 2.13.02
2 6 GIDAY AMHA ETH 2.14.25
3 14 ELIAS KEMBOI KEN 2.15.01
4 4 DARWIT TRFE ETH 2.15.07
5 5 JULIUS KIPKEMBOI KEN 2.15.34
6 17 AHMED JABER QAT 2.16.36
7 3 HENRY CHERONO KEN 2.16.50
8 9 WILSON KIPRONO KEN 2.16.54
9 23 FASED AWERSON ERI 2.17.34
10 2 DAVID KIRUI KEN 2.19.55
1 32 DELILIAH ASIAGO KEN 2.43.09
2 36 SHITAYE GEMECHU ETH 2.45.34
3 37 KENSA WAHBI MOR 2.48.47