Dubai Marathon — Debut Record For Tigist Ketema

Erstwhile World Junior 800 bronze medalist Tigist Ketema, a training partner of WR holder Tigst Assefa, knocked out the fastest-ever first marathon by a woman. (GIANCARLO COLOMBO/PHOTO RUN)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, January 07 — The first major long road clash of the new year featured spectacular winning debuts by a pair of Ethiopians.

Tigist Ketema — until this year a middle distance runner who had never before raced longer than 10K — took the women’s race in 2:16:07. The 25-year-old’s sparkling run carried her to No. 8 on the all-time list and cut 32 seconds from the debut best set by Letesenbet Gidey in Valencia in ’22.

Ketema, with track PRs of 2:02.00, 4:00.91 and 15:17.27, concluded her ’23 oval campaign with a 13th-place showing in the Brussels DL 5000 last September, felt unsatisfied with her results, and went all-in on marathon training.

Coached by Gemedu Dedefo in a heavyweight group that includes WR holder Tigst Assefa and reigning world champion Amane Beriso, plus ’22 world men’s titlist Tamirat Tola, Ketema perhaps has found a home on the macadam.

As the women’s lead pack rolled in low-60s temperatures and early-morning darkness on the pancake-flat course along Jumeirah Beach Road — in the event’s return to the speedway route after 4 years away — Ketema hung close behind 3 male pacers along with a contingent that included ’23 winner Dera Dida and Ruti Aga.

Aga, runner-up last year by 13 seconds to Dida, raced most intensely in the early going, seemingly determined to reverse that result, but Ketema appeared relaxed in the 4-woman, all-Ethiopian group that passed halfway in 68:07. The early 5K segments passed in the 16:08–16:10 range before Ketema grew more assertive and heated up the 25–30K split to 15:59. Only Aga held on behind her.

Ketema’s 35K split (1:52:53) saw her alone behind the pacemaker and 14 seconds clear of Aga. From there she flowed home for a negative-split (68:00) second half for the win and a course record by 61 seconds.

Aga (2:18:09) and Dida (2:19:29) followed in 2nd and 3rd with Ethiopian-born German Melat Kejeta 4th in 2:21:47.

The ’16 World Junior Champs 800 bronze medalist, Ketema told a post-race broadcast interviewer she moved up to the marathon because she had worked very hard yet wasn’t seeing the results she hoped for. “I didn’t expect to win my first marathon,” she said through a translator, “and I am very happy.”

As for the time, Ketema said, “The competition was very fast but I did very good training and I was expecting it. I thank God and I thank my coach for that.”

Coach Dedefo told Race News Service, “Judging by her training, I thought she could do 2:15, but I can’t be dissatisfied with what she has done.”

Men’s winner Addisu Gobena, just 18 years old, came from out of the blue to prevail in 2:05:01 — the No. 2 all-time Junior clocking — from Ethiopian compatriots Lemi Dumecha (2:05:20) and Dejane Megersa (2:05:42). Megersa, like Gobena, was a debutant marathoner.

Gobena came to this futuristic city on the Arabian Gulf with just a single race result known to the wider world. He had placed 3rd at the Delhi Half-Marathon in October, clocking 60:51, 1:24 behind winner Daniel Simiyu of Kenya.

But Gobena, a 170-foot-range javelin thrower at an earlier, undistinguished stage of his young career, had come to marathoning at the suggestion of his aunt — none other than Aga, his father’s younger sister. “I think I made the right decision,” he understated after winning here.

With two years of training under his belt, Gobena ran determinedly at the front of a large men’s pack that reached halfway still 12-strong. By 35K (1:43:18), with the pace having sagged some, the teen had whittled down the contenders to a group of four.

By 40K he had only Dumecha as company. Gobena’s 40–41K kilometer split, 3:12, had gone slower than any of those that preceded it, but he was just waiting. From there he dropped in a withering surge that carried him home comfortably. Some 50m from the finish he raised his arms and waggled his hands in celebration.

“Today is Ethiopian Christmas,” he told the finish-line interviewer. “It is a double victory for me.”


1. Addisu Gobena (Eth) 2:05:01 (2, 2 WJ) (debut) (14:53, 14:40 [29:33], 14:33 [44:06], 14:37 [58:43], 14:43 [1:13:26], 14:44 [1:28:10], 15:08 [1:43:18], 15:05 [1:58:23], 6:38) (1:01:53/1:03:08);

2. Lemi Dumecha (Eth) 2:05:20 PR; 3. Dejane Megersa (Eth) 2:05:42 (debut); 4. Abdi Fufa (Eth) 2:06:23; 5. Samuel Fitwi Sibhatu (Ger) 2:06:27 PR; 6. Antenayehu Danachew (Eth) 2:06:55 PR; 7. Douglas Chebii (Ken) 2:08:15; 8. Tesfaye Ambesa (Eth) 2:08:25; 9. Bayelign Teshager (Eth) 2:08:56; 10. Abebaw Muniye (Eth) 2:09:09 PR; 11. Abebaw Desalew (Eth) 2:09:11 PR; 12. Asefa Mengisa (Eth) 2:09:35 PR.


1. Tigist Ketema (Eth) 2:16:07 (8, x W) (debut record — old Letesenbet Gidey [Eth] ’22) (16:08, 16:10 [32:18], 16:08 [48:26], 16:09 [1:04:35], 16:10 [1:20:45], 15:59 [1:36:44], 16:09 [1:52:53], 16:12 [2:09:05], 7:02) (1:08:07/1:08:00);

2. Ruti Aga (Eth) 2:18:09 =PR; 3. Dera Dida (Eth) 2:19:29; 4. Melat Kejeta (Ger) 2:21:47 PR; 5. Amid Jemal (Eth) 2:21:53 PR; 6. Shitaye Eshete (Bhr) 2:21:55; 7. Atalel Anmut (Eth) 2:22:23; 8. Betelihem Afenigus (Eth) 2:25:57 PR; 9. Emebet Niguse (Eth) 2:27:15 PR; 10. Nurit Yimam (Eth) 2:28:28.