Gebrselassie makes marathon debut this weekend; many expect world record

LONDON (AP) — Almost everything points toward Haile Gebrselassie setting a world record in Sunday's London Marathon.

The modest Ethiopian, regarded as the greatest track distance runner in history, won't come right out and say he'll break the record — 2 hours, 5 minutes 42 seconds — in his elite debut at the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) distance.

"Of course people want to see the world record here in London,'' said Gebrselassie, who has set 15 world records on the track and claimed two Olympic gold medals and four world championship titles at 10,000 meters.

He holds the 10,000 world record (26:22.75) and his blistering speed has allowed him to claim a world indoor title at 1,500 meters.

"I will try to do what people expect,'' the 28-year-old said Wednesday. "It's difficult to say the time, how fast. I will try to do my best.''

Here are hints of what's to come Sunday in what organizers call the strongest field in marathon history.

  • Jos Hermens, his manager, expects Gebrselassie to be the first to break 2:05 and eventually dip under 2:04.

  • Gebrselassie and Hermens have asked pacemakers to run the first half in an unprecedented 1:02:30. That's a pace of 2:04:49 for the full distance.

  • In training at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) near the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, he has run 35 kilometers in 1 hour 45 minutes — a 2:06:35 marathon pace.

  • Gebrselassie won the World Half Marathon just over two weeks ago in Lisbon, Portugal, in 59:40. It was his first time under an hour. Going into that race, Hermens told him to hold back and "not give everything away.'' Added Gebrselassie: "I could have run faster in nice weather. It was too warm.''

  • Gebrselassie is reportedly being paid $350,000 in appearance money. In addition, reports suggest he could get an extra $420,000 for a world record.

    "Of course, money comes after good results,'' he said, declining to talk about his incentives. "If I do the best, I will get the best money ... but if something (bad) happens, I won't get a cent.''

    The field facing Gebrselassie is breathtaking.

    It includes his longtime Kenyan track rival Paul Tergat, who made his marathon debut a year ago in London and finished second in what remains his personal best of 2:08:15.

    However, in the pack of nine runners expected to seriously challenge Gebrselassie, Tergat has the slowest personal best.

    British bookmakers have made last year's London champion Abdelkader El Mouaziz of Morocco (2:07:11 personal best) as the co-favorite with Gebrselassie at 2-1. Moroccan-born American Khalid Khannouchi, the current world record holder, is 6-1 followed by Tergat at 7-1.

    Tesjaye Jifar, the New York marathon champion (2:06:49) and one of Gebrselassie's training partners, is 10-1 with three-time London winner Antonio Pinto of Portugal (2:06:36) at 14-1.

    Others in the field with personal best times under 2:08 include William Kiplagat of Kenya (2:06:50), Tesfaye Tola of Ethiopia (2:06:57), Stefano Baldini of Italy (2:07:57), and Steve Jones (2:07:13) of Britain.

    "There is no longer any question whether London is the best marathon in the world,'' said race director Dave Bedford, who admits he overspent his budget by 15 percent.

    Technically, Gebrselassie is running his second marathon. As a 15-year-old, he traveled 200 kilometers (120 miles) from his village to Addis Ababa and ran 2:48.

    He expects Sunday's race to be much quicker — and less painful.

    "It was just to see how the city looked,'' Gebrselassie recalled. "I could see the whole city ... that was my best memory because I'd never seen such high buildings.''

    "At the end when I crossed the finishing line I couldn't walk any more,'' he added. "I was good during the race but after I crossed the line I sat down and somebody came and picked me up.

    "I was not able to walk for the next three days because my body was in very much pain.''

    The Ethiopian has changed his running style slightly, dropping down off his toes to a midfoot landing. He admits he's still "untested at this distance'' and said he had no special strategy.

    "I don't think of any special person to attack in this marathon,'' he said. "If Tergat is in the front run I will try to follow him or whoever.''

    Like Britain's Paula Radcliffe, who is moving from the track to make her marathon debut on Sunday, Gebrselassie praised London organizers for becoming the first major marathon to institute mandatory blood testing for all the top runners.

    "It's a wonderful thing,'' he said. "That's what I wanted. That's really important to find the honest athlete, the ones who do good training. ... From my point of view, most athletes are free of this (doping), but maybe in some cases athletes are taking something.''

    In Sunday' women's race, Radcliffe isn't talking about beating the women's world record of 2:20:43 held by Kenyan Tegla Loroupe. She isn't even the favorite, with defending champion Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia the choice. Svetlana Zakharova of Russia is also favored ahead of Radcliffe and Kenyan Joyce Chepchumba.

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