Aselefech Mergia Edges Gladys Cherono in an Epic Stretch Run To Win a Cool $200,000 in Dubai

January 23, 2015

One second was worth $120,000 in the incredible women’s race at the 2015 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.

Ethiopia’s Aselefech Mergia, the Dubai course record holder, returning from a pregnancy, and Kenya’s Gladys Cherono, the 2014 World  Half Marathon champion, making her marathon debut, waged an epic final-stretch duel with Mergia claiming the win — and the $200,000 first-place prize, the richest in global marathoning — in 2:20:02. Cherono crossed one second later in 2:20:03, settling for second and an $80,000 payday.

Both performances were special. Mergia, who set the course record of 2:19:31 here in 2012, hadn’t raced a marathon since the 2012 Olympics after taking 2013 off to have a baby and struggling in 2014. She now becomes the first woman to win Dubai three times. Cherono very nearly won Dubai and its massive first-place prize in her marathon debut.

How it Went Down

Tufa all alone out in front with a number and not her name on the her bib Tufa all alone out in front with a number and not her name on the her bib

Initially, it looked as if this could be a wire-to-wire victory as 27-year old Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia, the 2014 Ottawa and Shanghai champ with a 2:21:52 pb, broke away almost immediately and had a gap on the field of almost a minute by 15k.

Tufa, a late add to the race (she wasn’t in the media guide) as Shanghai was in November, had until now always competed as an Ethiopian but the announcer said repeatedly that she now represents Bahrain (we couldn’t find an article on her switching citizenship). We do know that she trains in New York with two-time NYC runner-up/rightful 2014 Boston champ Buzunesh Deba.

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The problem was that Tufa was going extremely fast: at 21k, she was all alone on 2:18:00 pace (there was no official 21.1 km split), a time only Paula Radcliffe has surpassed. There was no one with her as the male pacers were with the main pack. Tufa began to slow down but it still for a while looked like she might be able to hold on. However, with the help of male pacers,  a group of five women caught and passed Tufa just after the 34k mark (1:35:08 into the race). By 36k, they had 47 seconds on her.

Tufa would later drop out, receiving no money for her brave, though perhaps foolhardy effort.

Down to 3 Down to 3

Eventually, three women remained from that pack: Aselefech Mergia, who set the course record of 2:19:31 in 2012; Lucy Kabuu, who finished just three seconds back of Mergia on that day; and Gladys Cherono, the 2014 World Half Marathon champion. The action really heated up at 40k as Kabuu and Cherono both went for their bottles at the final station while Mergia used that opportunity to surge ahead. Kabuu could not recover, but Cherono gradually made up ground over the next 200 meters and drew level with Mergia.

Those two would not be separated by more than a few meters for the rest of the race; anytime Mergia drew in front, Cherono countered the move. As they neared the finish line, Mergia had a stride or two on Cherono and the Kenyan couldn’t quite manage to make up the gap, with Mergia barely holding her off by one second, 2:20:02 to 2:20:03. In all, 10 women broke 2:24 in one of the deepest races in marathon history.

Side by side for nearly the entire final straight Side by side for nearly the entire final straight


Quick Thought #1: Find a race replay of the women’s finish (hopefully it shows up ont eh Dubai site or youtube soon), it was great.

A very tight battle with A LOT of cash on on the line. The best part of it may have been Mergia’s celebration afterwards. Winning $200,000 would make nearly everyone happy but this clearly meant a lot to Mergia who struggled coming back from pregnancy.

She put both hands up and celebrated in epic style, jumping up and down repeatedly while holding the Ethiopian flag. It’s amazing that a woman who won such a close race could have that much energy afterwards.

She might have been the most energetic marathon winner we’ve ever seen.

Aselefech Mergia and Her Support Crew (she also hugged Renato Canova) Were Super Pumped with the $200k Win Aselefech Mergia and Her Support Crew (she also hugged Renato Canova) Were Super Pumped with the $200k Win

Quick Thought #2: Did going for her bottle at 40k cost Cherono $120,000?

Both Cherono and Kabuu went for their final bottle at 40k and it didn’t work out for Kabuu as she was dropped when Mergia immediately surged. Cherono made up the ground on Mergia and sat on her for the rest of the race but was never able to pass her, ultimately losing by one second.

Did Cherono’s decision to grab her bottle cost her the win and $120,000 (the difference between first and second-place prize money)? Perhaps, though we’ll never quite know for sure. Any fluid she takes in with 2.2k to go probably isn’t going to make a tremendous difference, which would have made it safe to skip the bottle. But who’s to say the same thing doesn’t happen if Cherono ignores the bottle, with Mergia holding her off in the final straight? Mergia certainly celebrated a lot after crossing the line, suggesting she may have had a little extra in the tank (though it didn’t look like it at the time). If Cherono got a do-over, she probably wouldn’t have gone for the last bottle but that doesn’t guarantee a different end result.

Quick Thought #3: Desi Linden ls no longer the fastest 10th-placer in history / This race was deep.

Today’s Dubai race was incredibly fast and incredibly deep. It was just a tiny bit slower than the 2012 Dubai race up front which set the record for fastest 3rd through 5th place finishers in history. After spot #5, it was just a tiny bit slower than 2014 Boston for fastest-ever marks in spots 6 through 9. At 2014 Boston, American Desi Linden became the fastest 10th-placer in history at 2:23:54. Well tonight, the 10th-placer in Dubai was Ashete Bekere Dido of Ethiopia in 2:23:43.

The Ethiopian fans and runners love Dubai The Ethiopian fans and runners love Dubai

Quick Thought #4: It’s not hard to see why no Americans run Dubai.

Dubai generally gives out very little appearance money (the exceptions likely being huge names like Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie), which means you’ve got to place in the top 10 to make the trip worthwhile financially. Well 10th place in the women’s race (which earned $8,000) was 2:23:43, which would rank as the ninth-fastest marathon ever by an American woman. So to make any money off the trip (which would involve a 12+ hour flight from New York; longer from the Midwest/West Coast), a woman would have to produce one of the nine best performances in American history. It makes zero sense for an American woman to run Dubai when she can stay closer to home, collect an appearance fee and have a better shot at prize money (especially since many American marathons will offer separate prize money for the top few Americans) at a domestic marathon.

All told with appearance fees and shoe bonuses, it wouldn’t surprise us if Desi Linden made six figures running 2014 Boston. The same time she ran in Boston would garner her zero officially in Dubai (although shoe bonuses still might apply).

*Top 20 Results here

1. Aselefech Mergia ETH 2:20:02 MERGIA / $200,000 US-Dollar
2. Gladys Cherono KEN 2:20:03 KIPRONO / 80,000
3. Lucy Kabuu KEN 2:20:21 KABUU / 40,000
4. Shuhre Demissie ETH 2:20:59 DEMISSIE / 20,000
5. Aberu Kebede ETH 2:21:17 KEBEDE / 12,000
6. Mulu Seboka ETH 2:21:56 SEBOKA / 11,200
7. Tadelech Bekele ETH 2:22:51 BEKELE / 10,400
8. Aliaksandra Duliba BLR 2:23:06 DULIBA / 9,600
9. Abebech Afework ETH 2:23:33 AFEWORK / 8,800
10. Ashete Bekere ETH 2:23:43 BEKERE / 8,000


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