Total Unknown Hayle Lemi Berhanu Wins Marathoning’s Richest First-Place Prize at 2015 Dubai Marathon

January 23, 2015

For the fourth straight year, a young Ethiopian stole the show and won the richest first place prize ($200,000) in marathoning in Dubai.

This year, the young Ethiopian winner was the stuff dreams are made of, as he had only competed once abroad in his life in an major race, and had never broken 2:10 in the marathon.

In a race featuring 5,000 and 10,000 world record holder Kenenisa Bekele and 2013 Boston and Dubai champ Lelisa Desisa, the winner in the end was a former 2:10 marathoner, Ethiopian Hayle Lemi Berhanu in 2:05:28 as Desisa was second in 2:05:52.

Bekele, who struggled with an Achilles issue in December according to a report in L’Equipe, lost contact with the leaders before 30k after a quick opening half of 62:02 and ended up dropping out.

A beautiful shot of the Dubai city from the race helicopter A beautiful shot of the Dubai skyline from the race helicopter

How A No Name Won the Sport’s Richest 1st-Place Prize in His Second Marathon

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The pace was honest at the start, with several pacers leading a large pack of almost 30 runners through 15k in 44:12 (2:04:20 pace). The Dubai timing site had an incredible 29 men on sub-2:05 pace at their chip marker at 15.65 kilometers.

The pace continued to slow (14:51 and 14:54 for the next two 5k segments), but with the leaders still on pace for a 2:04 clocking, men began to drop off the pack. Surprisingly, just before 30k, Kenenisa Bekele dropped off himself. The three-time Olympic gold medalist had looked strong for the first half of the race but after falling off he started to labor. Bekele seemed uncomfortable and his form began to deteriorate. Bekele had entered Dubai hoping to run a course record, a PR at the very least. Some had even mentioned Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record. He would accomplish none of these goals. Right after 31k, Bekele dropped out for the first time in the marathon in his third attempt at the distance. (We have more on Bekele’s condition at the bottom)

It came down to these 4 men It came down to these four men

With five miles to go, the race was down to five men, all Ethiopian: Deribe Robi, Lelisa Desisa, Feyisa Lilesa, Hayle Lemi Berhanu and Sisay Lemma. Desisa (2013 Boston champ, 2014 NYC runner-up) and Lilesa (2011 WC bronze, three top-fours at World Marathon Majors) were known quantities; Robi (2:07:16 pb), Hayle (2:10:40 pb) and Lemma (2:09:02 pb) were decidedly not.

Robi began to push and as the group approached the second hairpin U-turn on the course (there are only four turns on the course, total), he made a sudden sharp left turn, stepping over the sidewalk that divided the two sides of the road and immediately creating a gap on the four men behind him. The other runners hesitated for a fraction of a second before they all cut the turn (to varying degrees) to keep up with Robi. In all, Robi cut off 15-30 meters from the course; the total for the others was slightly less.

A two man battle a the end A two-man battle at the end

The cut corner didn’t end up helping Robi as by 38k he would fall off the leaders, and the race was down to two men: Desisa and Hayle. Of the two, Hayle looked far more comfortable, with Desisa showing signs of struggle. The two continued to run side by side until 1k to go when, in a move reminiscent to Wilson Kipsang’s sudden drop of Desisa in New York last year, Hayle made a strong move and began to power away from Desisa. Hayle ended up blasting a 2:45 kilometer split from 41k to 42k, leaving him 195 meters to celebrate in front of stands packed with Ethiopian fans. He crossed the line in 2:05:28, a PR by an incredible 5:12, while Desisa took second in 2:05:52 less than 11 weeks after taking second in New York.

A previous 2:10 marathoner had taken home the richest first place prize $200,000 in the sport. Unbelievable. You can relive the blow by blow of the race here. *Results

Hayle Lemi All Alone Before the Finish Hayle Lemi All Alone Before the Finish

Quick Thought #1: Hayle Lemi Trumps History and Wins the Sport’s Richest 1st-Place Prize in His Second International Race Ever

Dubai has established itself as THE place where young Ethiopians come to make a name for themselves, but Hayle Lemi’s win this year was a total, total surprise.

The last three years, the Dubai men’s race had featured a young Ethiopian winning the first marathon they finished and each year the champion had been less credentialed going into the race than the previous winner. In 2012, 21-year-old Ayele Abshero, the former world junior cross country champion, won in 2:04:23 in his marathon debut. In 2013, 23-year-old Lelisa Desisa, who had run under 59:40 in the half marathon three times and been the junior African 10,000 champ, won in 2:04:55 in his marathon debut. Last year, 18-year-old Tsegaye Mekonnen, who had been 5th in the world junior 5000m in 2012, won in 2:04:32 in the first marathon he finished (he dropped out of Dubai in 2013 according to

Hayle Celebrates Just Before the Finish Hayle Celebrates Just Before the Finish

This year, the winner was yet again an unheralded young Ethiopian, but he was way less credentialed and raced than the previous winners.

Hayle Lemi’s (Berhanu) win in Dubai is the stuff dreams are made of., which chronicles all the major professional and junior races in the world, shows Hayle having run one race, period, prior to this one – his 2:10:40 marathon debut and victory in Zurich last year.

He has no half-marathons to his name, nothing else. What does Hayle do? He goes out and wins the biggest first-place prize in the sport with a monster 5:12 pr.

Dubai attracts a ton of young Ethiopian talent each year, because the runners know 1) they will be given a spot on the starting line and 2) they can leave rich men if they run well. Hayle certainly took advantage today in Dubai.

Update: The race organizers story is out on the race and Hayle himself admits to be surprised he won. He told the race organizers, “I would never have thought that I could win this race. It was my dream to do this in Dubai one day, but not this year! With around one kilometre to go, I sensed that I could succeed.”

Update #2: Coach Renato Canova, the coach of Bekele, has revealed he’s also the coach of Hayle as well. His training got better and better and he recently told him he could run 2:05.

Quick Thought #2: Hayle was smart not to let it come down to a sprint at the very end.

Lelisa Desisa rose to fame in 2013 with incredible sprint finishes to win in both Dubai and Boston. In Dubai, we had him running 51-second 400 pace for the final 194 meters from the 42k mark to the finish.

Bekele Falling off and with a slight limp Bekele falling off and with a slight limp

Quick Thought #3: Back to the drawing board for Kenenisa Bekele.

Coming into this race, the story line was the Kenenisa Bekele was learning how to be a marathoner. The results don’t show that. Each result has been objectively worse than the previous one.

A 2:05:04 in Paris, then a 2:05:51 in Chicago after losing contact with the leaders at 20k and now a DNF in Dubai after losing contact with the leaders before 30k.

Changing coaches and trying to run a marathon just more than three months after his last one seems like a bad idea in hindsight. Guess what? His next marathon is in 93 days – London.

Now the Twitter account of his agent says Bekele was injured:

Additionally, astute messageboard poster “gathernomoss” says Bekele’s new coach Renato Canova told French newspaper L’Equipe yesterday that Bekele had an Achilles injury at Christmas (Google translation):

– I’m happy with his preparation considering the problems he faced . Inflammation of an Achilles tendon. Until mid-December, he gave up on several sessions. Arriving in Addis Ababa, I immediately called TECAR , a company specializing in the treatment of the pain ( with which collaborates Lavillenie ) , who sent us the right machine and best technician. After seven days of intense treatment , Kenenisa was training whilereducing painand inflammation. His tendon is not perfect, but a performance around 2 hours 4 ‘ seems possible. For the world record , it would be possible next year, even if Kenenisa is thinking of focusing on the Olympics.

With Canova, Bekele is clearly in good hands. Getting medical equipment flown in is the type of care he’d be getting if he was with American Alberto Salazar. But to win one of the world’s most stacked marathons, your training needs to be incredibly good, even if you are super talented. Three-plus months without an injury is a very quick turnaround for a 32-year-old. Three-plus months with an injury seems foolish in hindsight but the money is hard to pass up.

Update: Bekele’s coach, Renato Canova, has spoken and told race organizers and has also has now written a great blog post for Alberto Stretti:  Coach Canova Talks About Bekele’s Buildup To Alberto Stretti. To the organizers, he said, “Kenenisa suffered of hamstring problems in both legs. But I think the real problem is in his right Achilles tendon. At the end of November he had to reduce training because of this. But then it got better and actually his final training sessions looked encouraging. A world record was never a realistic target, but a 2:04 time seemed realistic. However when I saw him running today he did not look relaxed, he looked tight. And I think this is the reason why he developed hamstring problems. Something must have happened in the final few days before the race. We now have to solve this tendon problem. But for his future marathon career I remain very confident. I think he will do really well.”

Stretti’s blog is really a must read for a die-hard fan as Canova is still VERY bullish on Bekele’s future: “His engine is still the most powerful in the World”.

Read and talk much more about Bekele: MB: Canova talks about Bekele’s marathon in Dubai – “I obviously was not happy” – but reveals he coached the race winner!!

Quick Thought #4: With the huge prize money and largely nonexistent appearance fees, the guys certainly went after it.

Dubai has huge prize money and little appearance fees (Kenenisa Bekele definitely got something substantial to run this race but most get nothing) and what does that result in? People going for it big-time. At the 15.65 km split, 29 men were on sub-2:05 pace (19 women were on sub-2:21 pace). In the end, everyone who broke 2:10 got paid, meaning only 10 men broke 2:10. The pace fell apart the second half of the race.

It certainly was a little windier and warmer than ideal. High 50s for the temps is 10 degrees warmer than ideal.

Quick Thought #5: Total Ethiopian domination.

The top 30 results can be found here. The top 12 spots were all Ethiopians.
1. Lemi Berhanu ETH 2:05:28 HAYLE / $200,000 US-Dollar
2. Lelisa Desisa ETH 2:05:52 DESISA / 80,000
3. Deribe Robi ETH 2:06:06 ROBI / 40,000
4. Feysa Lelisa ETH 2:06:35 LELISA / 20,000
5. Sisay Lemma ETH 2:07:06 LEMMA / 12,000
6. Bazu Worku ETH 2:07:09 WORKU / 11,200
7. Chele Dechase ETH 2:08:11 DECHASE / 10,400
8. Girmay Birhanu ETH 2:08:56 BIRHANU / 9,600
9. Adugna Takele ETH 2:09:39 TAKELE / 8,800
10. Andualem Belay ETH 2:09:59 BELAY / 8,000

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