Ethiopia’s Aselefech Mergia and Kenya’s Gladys Cherono waged an epic final-stretch duel with Mergia claiming the win.


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

Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia edging Gladys Cherono of Kenya (Phto: from IAAF)

Aselefech Mergia of Ethiopia edging Gladys Cherono of Kenya (Phto: from IAAF)

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.

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.

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.


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