Dubai - “Time is the priority” for South African marathoner Gladwin Mzazi who will line up in the world’s richest marathon in Dubai on Friday morning in search of a time that can secure his berth on the 2016 Rio Olympic team.
With 28 men who have run under 2 hours 10 minutes, and 10 women who have broken 2 hours 23 minutes, the Dubai marathon has one of the best fields ever assembled which should assist Mzazi in achieving his goal of setting a new personal best.
“Stephen Mokoka is currently the fastest contender for the (SA) team, but I feel that 2:11:30 or better will put me on the plane to Rio,” said the Gauteng North athlete who’s current best is a lowly 2:17:43 set on a fast flat Fukuoka course in 2014.
It is not often a marathoner of that speed can expect to carve over six minutes off a PB, but the marathon requires experience and the 28-year-old has the shorter distance times at the 21km (61:12) and 10 000m (27:56.9 in 2015) to suggest he is capable of going sub 2:07 once he understands the patience and pacing of the classic Olympic distance.
On Tuesday, Athletics South Africa (ASA) named Mzazi as part of a seven-man squad for the World Half Marathon in Cardiff in March.
“I hoped the selectors would see my performance here as proof of fitness and once this is over I will focus on Cardiff, but will not be racing the SA 10km championships, as I will take a couple of weeks to recover,” said Mzazi who will then hopefully be setting his focus on Rio in August.
Four former winners, including course record holder Ayele Abshero, current champion Lemi Berhanu and 2014 winner, Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa - then 18 - who set an unofficial world junior record of 2:04:32 despite entering as a pacemaker, are expected to lead out the Dubai field of 12 000 marathoners in search of the $200 000 first prize.
“I am running my own race at least until 30km, but there should be a second or third group around my target time so I expect to have company to run with,” continued Mzazi.
“Of course it would be ideal if I could make the top 10 and prize money, but that comes second. My goal is to become an Olympian.”
"Dubai was the first marathon to have five men finish the same race in sub 2:05 and the first race to have three women break 2:20 in the same event, so it’s pleasing to see this reflected in the event’s global standing,” said Race Director Peter Connerton when introducing the star-studded field at the media conference.
“The records over the course speak for themselves - we were the first race in history to have 10 men finish in sub-2:05 and we now have 11 - and the men and women know with perfect weather and a flat course there are very fast times to be had in Dubai.”
With the start time moved forward an hour to 06:30 (04:30 SA time) conditions are expected to be 16-17 degrees, 60% humidity and a light 3-5km/h breeze, almost ideal and certainly better than most racing that Mzazi has experienced for racing.
Dubai Marathon status has grown exponentially in world terms in recent years and is one of the first IAAF Gold Label events of the year with one of the most impressive women’s fields headed by former winners Mulu Seboka (2014), Tirfi Tsegaye (2013) and Mamitu Daska (2010).
The latest recruit to the ladies competition is Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu who is arguably better known for her 29:53.80 run over 10 000m which ranks her second on the all time list and making her one of only five woman in history to break the 30-minute barrier for the distance.
In her running career, she has also accumulated a haul of eight medals at World
Championships, World Indoor Championships and World Cross-Country Championships
and boasts a track speed that suggests potential for improving her current
2:21:01 set in 2012 in Frankfurt to a time below 2:19.
The Dubai Marathon has not only inspired elite performers, but has seen such local and international growth to such an extent that over 30 000 runners will participate over the 42km, 10km and 4km distances and the event will be graced by around 20 national federation and IAAF officials including IAAF president Lord Sebastian Coe who will assist with the prize giving, and current world record holder for the women’s marathon, Paula Radcliffe, who will be providing commentary on race day.