Mergia, who turns 33 just three days before the event, is the greatest female runner in the history of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon having won three times and set the course record of 2:19:31 in her three appearances. It will be her first start in the world’s richest marathon since her last victory in the UAE in 2015.
But if the Ethiopian is to maintain her 100% winning record, she will need to see off a talented field that includes compatriots Dibaba, Marathon gold medalist at the 2015 IAAF World Championships and a bronze medal winner at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and defending champion Worknesh Degefa.
With personal bests of 2:19:31 and 2:19:52 respectively, Mergia and Dibaba are the fastest women in the field and their race for the US$200,000 first prize will be one of the major battles to watch in the first big marathon meeting of the year.
“We are excited to have two huge talents leading the women’s field,” said Event Director Peter Connerton. “Aselefech Mergia has won every time she has raced here, while Mare Dibaba has won World Championship and Olympic medals since finishing third in Dubai in 2012.”
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and staged under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the Marathon will be staged in conjunction with a 10km Road Race and a 4km Fun Run. Registration for all three races can still be made at the official website www.dubaimarathon.org.
For the elites, it is the first world-class marathon of the year – and with a reputation for providing a flat and fast course combined with benign weather conditions, Dubai is a favourite with the great and the good of long distance running such as three-time champion Mergia whose last appearance in Dubai was an emotional one.
Almost three years after her last race at the distance and just 18 months after giving birth to her daughter Sena, she outpaced Kenya’s Gladys Cherono to win the 2015 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon by just one second in a time of 2:20:02. She returns to Dubai fresh from a sold third place finish at last year’s London Marathon.
Looking to thwart Mergia’s hope of a fourth Dubai title, 28 year-old Dibaba is one of the most successful marathon runners in the world. Since stepping up the 42.195km distance in 2010, she has won the 2014 Chicago Marathon, clinched victory in the Xiamen Marathon in China on two occasions and won the World Championship’s marathon in Beijing in 2015 and the Olympic marathon bronze a year later in Rio.
In addition to Standard Chartered as title sponsor, the Dubai Marathon is supported by the Dubai Sports Council, adidas, Dubai Eye 103.8FM, Masafi Natural Water, Dubai Holding, Dubai Police and the RTA.