DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Runners from Kenya and Ethiopia will be aiming to maintain their dominance at this year’s Dubai Marathon with favorite and three-time London Marathon winner Martin Lel back in top form after an injury and last year’s women’s champion Asselefech Medessa returning to defend her title.

Martin Lel

Nearly 15,000 runners will compete in the $1 million race Friday that starts in the shadows of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The mostly flat route then takes runners along the Persian Gulf coast before ending back at the Burj Khalifa.

Lel leads what organizers say is the best men’s field ever, with a dozen runners having bettered Kenyan David Barmasai’s 2011 winning time of 2:07:18, including Ethiopian’s Bazu Worku (2:05:25) who finished third in Berlin, former World Youth Champion Markos Geneti (2:06:35) of Ethiopia and 2009 Boston Marathon champion Deriba Merga (2:06:38).

“The men’s field is incredibly strong with 12 runners who have all run below 2:07:00,” event director Peter Connerton said. “We are delighted to have a five-time major winner in Martin Lel with us this year, but he is just one of many men who can win the event, and the women’s field is very similar with some incredible talent in the lineup.”

Three-time winner Haile Gebrselassie, considered among the greatest distant runners of all time, will not run.

Much of the attention among the men will be on Lel due to his strong performances at big races over the past decade. The 33-year-old was a runner-up at last year’s London Marathon. Before that, he won in London in 2005, 2007 and 2008 and New York in 2003 and 2007.

“It’s great to have such a strong race to help me try for Olympic selection,” Lel said. “I’ve seen how Haile has performed well here, and if the group is strong, I hope to produce a good race.”

If he were to win, Lel would continue the dominance of Kenyan men that was most evident last year. All the major events in 2011 were won by Kenyans and 37 of them ran 41 of the world’s top fifty times. Close to 500 Kenyan men ran under 2:20, with 162 of them under the Olympic qualifying time of 2:12.

In the women’s field, Ethiopians are expected to upstage the Kenyans. Medessa is among the favorites but her personal best 2:22.38 is still slower than three other runners competing in Dubai.

She will expect a strong challenge from 2010 Dubai champion Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia, who set a best of 2:21:59 in Frankfurt last year, Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia (2:22:04) and Kenya’s Lydia Cheromei, who set a course record 2:22:34 winning in Prague last year.

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