18 months after giving birth, Aselefech Mergia adds another chapter to Dubai Marathon lore

'After maternity leave and two years without running any marathons, to come back and win the Dubai Marathon for the third time in my life is very special' Aselefech Mergia told Gary Meenaghan on Friday.

2015 Dubai Marathon winner Aselefech Mergia celebrates with her daughter after her victory in the race on Friday. Francois Nel / Getty Images / January 23, 2015
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DUBAI // Juggling her national flag and her 18-month-old daughter, Ethiopian distance runner Aselefech Mergia celebrated on the finish line of the Dubai Marathon on Friday after becoming the first woman in history to win the emirate’s race three times.

Mergia, competing on her 30th birthday and in her first marathon since giving birth in July 2013, crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 20 minutes, 29 seconds.

The time was the second fastest in Dubai history and just 31 seconds off the course record, which she had set when successfully defending her title in 2012.

That race is regarded as one of the greatest marathons in history, with three women finishing in sub-2:20 and Mergia executing a late surge to beat Kenyan Lucy Kabuu by three seconds.

Friday morning, despite the rising mercury, she was forced to replicate the feat, finding remarkable reserves of energy to fight off the late challenge of Kenyan Gladys Cherono.

Mergia, propelled on by the quickening footfall of the figure close behind, crossed the line just one second ahead of Cherono, the world half-marathon champion who was making her full-distance debut. On bursting through the tape, Mergia raised her arms in the air in jubilation.

It is the closest finish the race has seen in its 16-year history and both women’s times fall inside the 25 fastest marathons ever recorded.

“When you achieve something very big, this is how it feels: amazing,” Mergia told reporters after collecting the winner’s vase and a cheque for US$200,000 (Dh735,000).

“After maternity leave and two years without running any marathons, to come back and win the Dubai Marathon for the third time in my life is very special.”

Mergia, who last ran in a marathon in the summer of 2012, gave birth to daughter Sena in July 2013 and revealed earlier this week that her comeback had initially been delayed after struggling to drop her weight from 73kg to 51kg. Following yesterday’s 42.2km run, she credited her daughter for driving her to victory.

“My daughter is a lucky charm. It is because of her I won the $200,000,” she said, adding she will invest the prize money into a guesthouse that she is in the process of having built in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

“I celebrated with my daughter at the finish line, but she did not understand we were celebrating because she is only 18-months-old. But just to have her here, and my husband too, I feel very lucky.”

Eight consecutive Dubai Marathons have now been won by Ethiopians and seven of the 10 fastest women yesterday hailed from the east African nation. Haile Gebrselassie, the country’s favourite son, Olympic gold medallist and three-time winner in Dubai, spoke of his delight for his compatriots.

“Here in Dubai, it is always Ethiopians – and next year will be the same,” Gebrselassie said. “What the women did was amazing.

“I didn’t expect Aselefech to win this race because this is her first since maternity leave. I expected her to maybe finish in the top four or five, but to win is wonderful.”

Kabuu, the Kenyan who came within three seconds of victory in 2012, finished third this year while last year’s winner, Mulu Suboka, finished sixth.

Debutant Cherono admitted her lack of experience counted against her, but expects to improve as she looks to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“I am happy with what I achieved because it is my first time running a marathon,” Cherono, who collected $80,000 for her performance, said.

“I was so strong throughout, but I had no finishing power. That will come with experience though.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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