DUBAI // The absence of Haile Gebrselassie from tomorrow's Dubai Marathon means the thrill of the chase for a US$1 million (Dh3.67m) bonus for breaking the world record has gone.
However, one positive to offset the non-appearance of the greatest name in distance running is that there is the potential for a competitive race now.
Gebrselassie went unchallenged in running up a hat-trick of titles in Dubai until his final race here last year.
His main incentive for coming to the UAE was the pursuit of the $1m prize Dubai Holding offered for him to lower his own world record.
Though he never achieved this goal, he did post the then second fastest time in history in 2008, then the fifth fastest a year later.
Now he is not coming back and the bonus sum has been removed. Yet the field of elite athletes will still be racing for the same $250,000, and they are more evenly matched than ever.
And the name on the title could again be Ethiopian. Two of Gebrselassie's training partners, Chala Dechase and Eshutu Wendimu, finished second and third respectively last year, and will be bidding to improve on those efforts when they go to the start line tomorrow.
"This is the fourth time I have been to Dubai and I like it here because I have finished third three times," Wendimu, who celebrates his 29th birthday next week, said.
"I have been happy with that, but hopefully I can do better this time. I have been training well back in Addis [Ababa], so we will see what happens. Maybe 2011 can be my year."
The marathon course has been altered for the 12th year in succession, yet the pursuit of fast times has remained uppermost in the thoughts of the designer.
"Obviously pictures of the event go around the world and it is important we showcase what Dubai has to offer, but similarly a fast route and time will also be good for the event," Peter Connerton, the race director, said.
"The course is fast and flat, but to set a world record needs so many things to come together on the day.
"The ingredients are there but you are also relying on other factors. Chances are we could see a world record set on the streets of Dubai which would be wonderful for the event and, of course, for the city."
Gebrselassie's world record time of 2hr 3min 59secs is likely to be beyond the field lining up for tomorrow's race.
However, spectators could be set to witness the flowering of arguably the next great star of distance running.
Eliud Kiptanui ran the 17th fastest time in marathon history in Prague in the Czech Republic last May, a month before his 21st birthday.
The Kenyan will be bidding to break the Ethiopian monopoly on the Dubai crown tomorrow.