RAS AL KHAIMAH // It seems to be becoming the regular refrain for Ethiopia-born elite athletes competing in the top road races in the Emirates: “There is always next year”.
For the past three years, Haile Gebrselassie, the greatest of them all, has trotted the words out through gritted teeth, after seeing his prospective world-record bids miss the target at the Dubai Marathon.
Yesterday it was the turn of Elvan Abeylegesse, the Addis Ababa-born woman runner, who landed the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon title at her first attempt, yet was left wanting more.
“I tried to set a world record,” said Abeylegesse, a native Ethiopian who became a naturalised Turk through marriage. “It didn't happen but I will try next year."
The race organisers had predicted a fast time ahead of yesterday morning, and they were proved correct. Abeylegesse may have missed out on the world record, but she did set a new course record at 1hr 7min 7sec, 11 seconds quicker than Dire Tune's record last year.
It was also personally satisfying for the 27-year-old runner as it confirmed her return to full fitness.
Abeylegesse claimed silver medals in both the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, yet 2009 campaign was hindered by an injured Achilles.
However, she showed few visible effects of that problem in RAK.
The triumph in the Emirates will add further fuel to Abeylegesse’s European Athletics Championships hopes. She will go for gold in the 5,000m and the 10,000m on the track in Barcelona in July.
Mare Dibaba, who was a former Ethiopian national teammate of Abeylegesse before yesterday’s victor became a naturalized Turk, finished second, six seconds off the pace.