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Big City Marathons.

The second highlight in this series is going to the big city marathon season.

I’m going to focus on one in particular, one that usually gets overlooked in these conversations. And that is the first one of the year: Dubai.

 Dubai Marathon 2012

For the rest, Rotterdam, Boston, London, Chicago, Berlin, Frankfurt, New York, they were all very exciting and there were some great talking points. Sadly, New York was hit by an event that makes any trivial pastime like this pale into insignificance. But there was Boston’s heat, Berlin’s “sprint” finish, Chicago’s Kebede renaissance, and the Spring DNF’s of Geoffrey Mutai in Boston and Patrick Makau in London.  I’m not sure they delivered the blow-your-head-off performance that many of their 2011 counterparts had. But perhaps that 2011 bar had just been set too high?

Either way the big city marathons in 2012 were headed into with a LOT of hype.

2011 had been an incredible year for men’s marathon running. Times had plummeted, the number of truly world class performances sky rocketed, and in fact the definition of a “world class time” had changed by virtue of the volume of staggering performances between January 2011 and December 2011. One country did the lion’s share of the damage. Kenyans took the marathon world by the scruff of the neck. 2:04 men, 2:05 men, 2:06 men. Every time a weekend passed by there were another half-dozen new performances on the all-time top 100 list. At the forefront of this incredible wave were two men who had emerged head and shoulders above the rest of the elite pack. Patrick Makau and Geoffrey Mutai. Behind this duo were plenty of elite Kenyan marathoners just waiting for them to put a foot wrong. The Kenyan Olympic marathon selection became headline news amongst the running community. Who would they pick? Who should they pick? Why was their selection criteria so complex? Why wouldn’t they commit? Why would they commit? Back and forth it went.

2011 had been a watershed year in marathoning, the likes of which would be unlikely to be seen again soon, nevermind in the very next year. But that didn’t stop the hype and the hope.

27 January 2012

 Ayele Abshero in Dubai

Dubai opened the year up and was a cracker. If this was how 2012 was going to start, there was much to be excited about. Three unheralded Ethiopians took the podium spots in record times left and right. Ayele Abshero won in 2:04:23. Dino Sefir was second in 2:04:50 and Markos Geneti was third in 2:04:54. If 2011 had been the year of Kenyan marathoning, 2012 might become the year Ethiopia took the power back.

Dubai’s official marathon website race report had this to say:

Ayele Abshero, the 2009 Junior Cross Country World Champion, also established himself as a leading contender for Ethiopia’s Olympic trio – if not victory at London 2012 – as he headed an Ethiopian 1-2-3, with Dino Sefir second in 2:04:50, and Markos Geneti third in 2:04:54, both personal bests.

 The quality of the performances was such that based on the final finishing times, the $1 million race featured the greatest marathon field in history. Never before in marathon history have more than three men broken 2:05 on a legal course yet here in Dubai four men broke that mark. Best marks-for-place were set for positions from third through to 17th, making it arguably the greatest marathon ever in terms of depth.

We were set for an unstoppable assault on all sorts of time barriers. Here we go, strap yourselves in. But in fact, Dubai, as far as times went, was as good as it was going to get. And it was pretty good.

The times were hellishly fast. Abshero was the new marathon kid on the block. With a run like that he had marathon fans the world over wondering what he might do in subsequent races. Geneti, a seasoned campaigner over other distances, had now marked his marathon card with a world class performance. It also seemed to signal a rapid changing of the guard in Ethiopian marathon running. The Olympic selection committee went on to pick all three of the Dubai finishers for the Olympic squad, displacing the established trio of likely’s: Gebre Gebremariam (NYC Marathon winner), Tsegay Kebede (London and Chicago winner) and Haile Gebrselassie (there’s not enough space here, but he’s done a bit, take my word for it).  

The selection seemed a rash decision even at the time, and with hindsight’s infallibility it has been exposed as being just that. Why would you disregard seasoned, proven big stage professionals like Gebremariam and Kebede, arguably at the height of their powers? Haile might have been a sentimental selection, but the other two surely were unlucky to miss out. As it turned out, none of the Dubai trio finished the Olympic marathon, which goes to show not only that you can’t judge from single performances, but also how difficult the sport of marathon running is.

The women’s race in Dubai was equally amazing. Aselefech Medessa from Ethiopia took the win in 2:19:31, with Kenyan Lucy Kabuu second a few ticks back in 2:19:34 and Dibaba Hurssa rounding out the top 3 in 2:19:52. Three women in sub 2:20 in the same race. Incredible.  

From the marathon website race report as earlier :

Medessa and Kabuu provided a thrilling end to the women’s marathon.

 I know the course so I felt confident,” said Medessa, who edged out Kabuu by just three seconds. “I prepared well and I’m delighted with 2:19. I’m now the best Ethiopian – and with a time like that, I hope to be selected for the Olympic Games”. 

It was the first time in international marathon history where three women have all ran under 2:20:00 underlining the event’s IAAF Gold Label status and its standing as one of the greatest marathon stages in the world. As with the men’s event, the women’s race saw incredible depth and best marks-for-place were set for positions third through to ninth.

To absorb how good the times in Dubai were, the top ten results are below.

Men

Pos Name Country Time
1 Ayele Abshero Ethiopia 2:04:23
2 Dino Sefir Ethiopia 2:04:50
3 Markos Geneti Ethiopia 2:04:54
4 Jonathan Maiyo Kenya 2:04:56
5 Tadesa Tola Ethiopia 2:05:10
6 Yami Dadi Ethiopia 2:05:41
7 Shami Dawit Ethiopia 2:05:42
8 Deressa Chimsa Ethiopia 2:05:42
9 Seboka Tola Ethiopia 2:06:17
10 Yemane Tsegay Ethiopia 2:06:29

Women

Pos Name Country Time
1 Aselefech Medessa Ethiopia 2:19:31
2 Lucy Kabuu Kenya 2:19:34
3 Mare Dibaba Ethiopia 2:19:52
4 Bezunesh Bekele Ethiopia 2:20:30
5 Aberu Kebede Ethiopia 2:20:33
6 Lydia Cheromei Kenya 2:21:30
7 Sharon Cherop Kenya 2:22:39
8 Atsede Baysa Ethiopia 2:23:13
9 Mamitu Daska Ethiopia 2:24:24
10 Isabella Andersson Sweden 2:25:41

It was an incredibly stand-out set of results with a number of excellent performances further down the line.

In one of these, the legendary Hendrick Ramaala showed that turning 40 is no obstacle, and ran 2:12:12 for 19th place. With this run he secured the qualifying time for what would have been his fifth Olympic games. Sadly the South African Olympic committee chose not to select him for the team. But that in no way detracts from what was yet another top quality performance from our old team mate.

So Dubai opened the book on 2012 marathoning. It paved the way for some great racing in the subsequent Spring and Autumn big city marathon season (and of course in the Olympic marathons). But none of them were able to produce the staggering set of results to match those in Dubai.

Highlights of 2012. Part 1. NIA Grand Prix 2-mile indoors here

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