Dado, Deba don't fear the Kenyans

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
5:55
PM ET
New York -- In 2011, Mary Keitany had won the London Marathon and, coming to New York City, was perceived as the top female marathoner in the world.

She took off so quickly from the start in New York that at one point she was four minutes ahead of course record pace, absolutely out of sight of her closest pursuers, including Ethiopians Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba.

Yet in an interview Wednesday about that 2011 race, Deba, more than once, declared, "I controlled her."

That was far from the common perception. But Deba, who is based in the Bronx, explained, "I know the New York course is very tough. I know her pace would slow down."

And after a pause, again, "I controlled her."

[+] EnlargeFirehiwot Dado, Buzunesh Deba
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty ImagesDado, left, and Deba are confident they can repeat their 2011 success in NYC.
Deba finally got Keitany back in her sights in mile 18, and joined countrywoman Dado -– a friend and running club partner years before in Ethiopia -– in catching Keitany just before the 25-mile mark. In a final sprint, the victory, by four seconds in 2:23:15, went to Dado.

That means that on Sunday, Deba will again be bidding to be first local resident to win the New York City Marathon since 1974, when the race was entirely within the confines of Central Park.

And again, Deba and Dado will have formidable Kenyans to contend with: 2013 London Marathon champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Priscah Jeptoo, and two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat, who won in New York in 2010.

But Deba, a resident of East 195th Street, on the east flank of Van Cortlandt Park, isn't intimidated by them, either.

"Kiplagat, in 2010, at that time the pace was slow," she notes (Kiplagat's winning time was 2:28:20.). "Jeptoo, she runs on a flat course," in London and in a 2011 Paris victory.

"We will see," asserts Deba, whose goal on Sunday is to run "under 2:23."

No one is anticipating anything as quick as Keitany's first 13.1 miles in 2011, but Jeptoo and Kiplagat could be dictating matters from up front.

"Maybe the first half is fast, [and] I'm with them," figures Deba. "I need to run my best time."

Almost certainly, Dado and Deba will again team up for much of the race. Deba is 26, Dado is three-and-a-half years older, but they were members of the same police-sponsored running club in the village of Arsi Assell until Deba came to the United States in 2005.

In 2011, before the New York City Marathon, "I saw the [elite] list of names," remembers Dado, who spotted Deba on the roster. "I was so happy. I missed her."

"If there is anything I will never forget, it's that day," Dado says of her 2011 tandem effort with Deba through New York's streets. "Running with her was the happiest day of my life. I love her very much."

Dado came to New York in 2011 as a three-time Rome Marathon champion. After her five-borough marathon triumph, she returned in March 2012 and outsprinted New Zealander Kim Smith to win the NYC Half. She was fourth in the 2012 Boston Marathon and then began to have problems with what Sam Grotewold of the New York Road Runners called "a grisly infected blister."

She has no recent race results to boast about, but Dado "has the idea that she wants to defend a championship," her coach, Haji Adilo, told Barbara Huebner of the NYRR.

"That is how she is approaching this race. Depending on the weather, she feels like she is fit enough to run a PR."

On Wednesday, Dado stated that she considers Edna Kiplagat "an amazing athlete, and I am her fan. But Buzu and I have been training tremendously and we hope we can keep her in check."

Deba's training has been entirely in the Bronx.

"I love New York. New York is my second hometown," affirms the woman who does her track workouts in Van Cortlandt Park and who has done 31-mile runs around the circumference of Manhattan. "The first time I arrived in the Bronx, I loved the people. I love the place."

In 2011, Worku Beyi, Deba's husband and coach, noted that he felt moving his wife to Albuquerque at altitude might help give her a competitive edge. But soon after, "Oh, she missed New York so much," Beyi recalls. "She cried every day. She was not happy. So we moved back."

Deba planned to run in New York last November. When that race was called off, she ran Houston in January and took second in 2:24:26. In May, she won the Lilac Bloomsday 12K in Spokane and then had to take off a month from running due to a calf strain. She was fourth in Atlanta's Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4 and second in the Bix 7 in Iowa on July 27.

She's more fit now. On Sunday, if she beats the ballyhooed Kenyans and her friend Dado, Deba will ensure that Norb Sander and Kathrine Switzer, the last New Yorkers to win the city's marathon, will go back simply being known as the President of the Armory Foundation (operating the Armory Track & Field Center) and the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon, respectively.

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