2016 Dubai Marathon Men’s Preview: Former Champs Hayle Lemi Berhanu, Tsegaye Mekonnen & Ayele Abshero Take On 2:04 Men Tadese Tola & Tsegaye Kebede And A Host Of Hungry Ethiopians For The Richest Prize In Marathoning

By LetsRun.com
January 20, 2016

The 2016 marathon season kicks off in style on Friday (Thursday night for U.S. viewers) with the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on the shores of the Persian Gulf, which you can watch for free on LetsRun.com starting at 9:30 pm ET Thursday night. The race’s $200,000 first-place prize (by far the largest in the sport) means that Dubai annually attracts scores of elite runners and in recent years the event has served as a platform for young Ethiopian marathoners to make their breakthroughs. Consider what has unfolded in the men’s race over the past four years:

2012: 21-year-old Ayele Abshero runs a course-record 2:04:23 in his debut to lead four men under 2:05. Abshero has yet to win another marathon since.
2013: 23-year-old Lelisa Desisa runs 2:04:45 in his debut, as a record five men break 2:05 in Dubai. Desisa has gone on to win Boston twice and finish 2nd at both Worlds and in NY.
2014: 18-year-old Tsegaye Mekonnen sets a world junior record of 2:04:32 in winning Dubai in his debut. He’d finish 5th in London later in the year.
2015: 20-year-old Hayle Lemi Berhanu wins in 2:05:28. Unlike the previous three champs, Berhanu was a veritable marathon veteran with a grand total of one marathon prior to his Dubai victory.

While it’s certainly possible that another hungry Ethiopian prospect uses Dubai as their coming-out party on Friday, there actually are a plethora of established marathoners looking to take home the title. Former champs Abshero, Mekonnen and Berhanu are all back, and they’ll be joined by 2:04 men Tsegaye Kebede (2x London champ) and Tadese Tola (2013 World Champs bronze medallist). Beyond them, there are scores of 2:0x guys and debutants, which should combine to make this the deepest marathon in the world — even deeper than the Olympics.

Just check out how Dubai stacks up against the London Marathon, which announced its field on Tuesday, in terms of PRs.

 Men 2016 London 2016 Dubai
# With PR Under 2:04 2 0
# With PR Under 2:05 5 4
# With PR Under 2:06 8 6
# With PR Under 2:10 16 22

Twenty-two men under 2:10! To put in perspective just how deep this race is compared to what the Olympics will be, consider that 15 men in the field have broken 2:08 in the past two years (demonstrating relatively recent fitness). When you impose the limit on entries (three per country), a total of just 12 Olympic-eligible athletes have bettered that mark during the same span (max three Kenyans, max three Ethiopians, plus one Ugandan, one Bahraini, one Japanese, one South African, one Eritrean, one Qatari). So in terms of sub-2:08 guys, Dubai is clearly going to be deeper than the 2016 Olympics.

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It should be a phenomenal race. We run through the details below before previewing the men’s field.

What: 2016 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon

When: Friday, January 22, 6:30 a.m. UAE Standard Time (9:30 p.m. ET, Thursday, January 21)

Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

How to watch: Watch a free live online stream on LetsRun.com on Thursday night here

Prize money (men’s and women’s are the same): 

1st $200,000
2nd $80,000
3rd $40,000
4th $20,000
5th $12,000
6th $11,200
7th $10,400
8th $9,600
9th $8,800
10th $8,000

There is a $100,000 bonus for a world record.

2016 men’s elite field*

Name Country Name on bib PB
Ayele Abshero Biza Ethiopia ABSHERO 2:04:23
Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa Ethiopia MEKONNEN 2:04:32
Tsegaye Kebede Wordofa Ethiopia KEBEDE 2:04:38
Tadese Tola Woldegeberel Ethiopia TOLA 2:04:49
Tilahun Regassa Dabe Ethiopia REGASSA 2:05:27
Lemi Berhanu Hayle Ethiopia BERHANU 2:05:28
Gebretsadik Abraha Adihana Ethiopia ABRAHA 2:06:22
Raji Assefa Worku Ethiopia RAJI ASSEFA 2:06:24
Sisay Lemma Kasaye Ethiopia LEMMA 2:06:26
Chala Dechasa Beyene Ethiopia DECHASA 2:06:33
Samuel Kiplimo Kosgei Kenya KOSGEI 2:07:07
Belay Asefa Bedada Ethiopia BELAY ASEFA 2:07:10
Tebalu Zawude Heyi Ethiopia ZAWUDE 2:07:10
Azmeraw Bekele Molalign Ethiopia BEKELE 2:07:12
Abayneh Ayele Woldegiorgis Ethiopia AYELE 2:07:16
Abrha Milaw Asefa Ethiopia MILAW 2:07:48
Thomas Kiplagat Rono Kenya RONO 2:07:52
Ernest Kiprono Ngeno Kenya KIPRONO/PACE M 2:07:57
Jonathan Yego Kiptoo Kenya KIPTOO 2:08:17
Edwin Kibet Koech Kenya KOECH/PACE M 2:08:17
Asbel Kipsang Kenya KIPSANG 2:09:26
Tesfaye Abera Dibaba Ethiopia ABERA 2:09:46
Afewerk Mesfin Woldetensae Ethiopia MESFIN 2:09:49
Belachew Alemayehu Ameta Ethiopia ALEMAYEHU 2:09:50
Eliud Kipkosgei Magut Kenya MAGUT 2:10:18
Mula Wasihun Lakew Ethiopia WASIHUN 2:10:57
Haile Tolossa Bekuma Ethiopia TOLOSSA 2:11:05
Haftu Tadele Gebremeskel Ethiopia TADELE 2:12:08
Mesfin Teshome Bekele Ethiopia TESHOME 2:17:25
Amos Kipruto Kenya KIPRUTO/PACE M 61:01 H
Yihunilign Adane Amsalu Ethiopia ADANE 61:34 H
Alemu Bekele Gebre Bahrain BEKELE 61:46 H
Dereje Dibaba Keneni Ethiopia DIBABA
Daniel Ndiritu Gatheru Kenya GATHERU – 2:14:02
Ahmed Gobena Gemeda Ethiopia GOBENA
Habteselassie Lemma Gemechu Ethiopia LEMMA – 2:10:19
Arega Legesse Huluka Ethiopia LEGESSE
Asefa Bitew Worku Ethiopia BITEW
Kibrom Desta Habtu Ethiopia DESTA
Sibabalwe Gladwin Mzazi SA MZAZI
Ali Abdosh Mohammed Ethiopia ABDOSH

*entries subject to change

Picking a Winner Is Basically Impossible

Unlike London, which relies upon its massive appearance fees to draw in top-tier talent, Dubai uses the allure of its $200,000 first-place prize to attract tons of very good marathoners who may not command a huge appearance fee from a major marathon. The result is a field is full of accomplished runners, which frequently leads to a compelling race. But unlike in London, where you can usually say with certainty that one of four or five guys will win it, anything is on the table in Dubai. Before winning Dubai last year, Hayle Lemi Berhanu had precisely one result in his All-Athletics.com profile: a 2:10:40 win in Zurich in 2014. ’14 champ Tsegaye Mekonnen entered the race with a 62:53 half marathon best, which was good for 14th at the 2013 RAK Half. In Dubai, he promptly ran 2:04:32 — the equivalent of two 62:16s back-to-back.

The point is, we could make the case for a bunch of guys to win this race, but all the analysis in the world is no good if the winner ends up being some little-known Ethiopian who runs the race of his life (as has been the case recently). We’ll do our best to highlight some of the top entrants in Friday’s race below, but the best advice we can give is to expect the unexpected.

The Former Champs

Hayle Lemi Berhanu — Ethiopia, 21 years old, 2:05:28 pb (2015 Dubai), 61:37 half

Last two marathons: 15th 2015 Worlds (2:17:36); 1st 2015 Warsaw (2:07:57)

Berhanu, who also goes by Hayle Lemi, Lemi Berhanu, and essentially any combination of his three names, showed that his breakout victory in Dubai last year was no fluke, winning Warsaw in April and earning a spot on the Ethiopian team at the World Championships. Though he struggled in that race, he was not alone in that respect (25 of the 67 starters dropped out due to the heat) and should be a major factor on Friday. Of the three former champs in the field, he’s the most likely to win, but proceed with caution: no one has repeated in Dubai since Haile Gebrselassie, who won three straight from 2008-2010.

Mekonnen broke through with a win in Dubai two years ago Mekonnen broke through with a win in Dubai two years ago

Tsegaye Mekonnen — Ethiopia, 20 years old, 2:04:32 pb (2014 Dubai), 61:05 half

Last two marathons: DNF 2015 Amsterdam; DNF 2015 London

Mekonnen ran 2:04:32 in Dubai in 2014 — at age 18! — but since then he’s failed to live up to his vast potential. He was a solid eighth in London in 2014 (2:08:06), but he’s run three marathons subsequently and failed to finish any of them. He did run 61:05 at the RAK Half last year (just 15 seconds behind Eliud Kipchoge) so it’s not as if he’s produced zero good performances, but he has to prove he can finish a marathon before being considered a favorite again.

It’s worth noting that Mekonnen will also race the Boston marathon in April.

Ayele Abshero — Ethiopia, 25 years old, 2:04:23 pb (2012 Dubai), 59:42 half

Last two marathons: 3rd 2015 Gongju (2:08:53); 4th 2014 London (2:06:31)

Abshero is a guy that’s hard to pin down. He’s hardly disappeared since winning Dubai in 2012 — he posted top-four finishes in London in 2013 and 2014 — but he ran just three races in 2015, the best of them a 2:08:53 marathon, good for third in Gongju in October. That’s fine, but it’s not the type of performance that makes us want to bet on him on Friday.

Update: Coach Renato Canova has written on the messageboard that Abshero and Tsegay Kebede (listed below) are both out of the race.

Sorry to inform that Ayele Abshero can’t run, because in the last week had typhous, with fever till 41. This is a very bad news for him, since he had perfect preparation and was in his best shape.

Also Tsegaye Kebede is not in the field. He had some minor problem in one leg, so preferred to have some time for recovering the total efficiency trying to be ready for running fast again.

The Major Champ

Kebede en route to victory in London in 2013 Kebede en route to victory in London in 2013

Tsegaye Kebede — Ethiopia, 29 years old, 2:04:38 pb (2012 Chicago), 59:35 half

Last two marathons: 8th 2015 Tokyo (2:07:58); 9th 2014 Berlin (2:10:27)

There was a time when Kebede was the most consistent marathoner around. He finished in the top three of 15 of his first 18 marathons (13 of which were majors), winning three of them (2010 London, 2012 Chicago, 2013 London) and never DNFing. While the DNF streak lives on, career marathons 19 and 20 did not go as smoothly. Despite racing on an extremely fast course, Kebede’s 2:10:27 in Berlin in September 2014 marked just the third time in his career that he failed to break 2:10 — the other two came in hot championship marathons in which he ran extremely well (3rd at the 2008 Olympics in 2:10:00, 4th at 2013 Worlds in 2:10:47). After Berlin, he traveled to Tokyo last year but again struggled, running 2:07:58 for 8th.

Kebede may only be 29 years old, but with 20 career marathons in his legs, he’s put a lot of stress on his body. Dubai could be a springboard back to the top, but considering he ran just 63:44 at the New Delhi Half Marathon in late November (finishing 16th overall), it seems unlikely.

Best of the Rest

  • Tadese Tola, Ethiopia, 2:04:49 pb — Tola, the 2013 World Champs bronze medallist, ran the two fastest marathons of his career in Dubai (2:04:49 in 2013, 2:05:10 in 2012). He ran well in 2014 (2nd Tokyo in 2:05:57, 1st Warsaw in 2:06:55) but struggled last year (5th Xiamen in 2:10:30, 9th Boston in 2:13:35).
  • Tilahun Regassa, Ethiopia, 2:05:27 pb — 2014 Eindhoven champ (2:06:21) put together a solid 2015, with a runner-up showing in Xiamen (2:06:54) and a 5th in London (2:07:16).
  • Sisay Lemma, Ethiopia, 2:06:26 pb  5th last year in Dubai (2:07:06) and went on to claim wins in Vienna (2:07:31) and Frankfurt (2:06:26).
  • Samuel Kosgei, Kenya, 2:07:07 pb — 59:36 half marathoner coming off win in Kosice (Slovakia) in pb of 2:07:07 in October.
  • Tebalu Zawuede, Ethiopia, 2:07:10 pb — Won All-Africa Games 10,000 last year, then won Seoul Marathon in November (2:08:46)
  • Asbel Kipsang, Kenya, 2:09:26 pb — Has won all three marathons he’s finished in his career (2014 Florence, 2015 Sao Paulo, 2015 Lisbon Rock ‘n’ Roll) but none faster than 2:09:26. Ran 60:37 HM pb last year.

What do you think? Tell us in the Dubai Marathon thread on our messageboard: MB: Official 2016 Dubai Marathon Live Discussion Thread.

Women’s Preview: 2016 Dubai Marathon Women’s Preview: LRC’s 2014 World #1 Tirfi Tsegaye Faces the Second-Fastest 10,000 Runner Ever (Meselech Melkamu) Plus Former Champs Mulu Seboka & Mamitu Daska

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