HAILE GEBRSELASSIE is clearly one of the greatest athletes in history and anytime he competes, especially this late in his fabulous career, we should all take notice.
Over and above that, he is a fantastic guy. I once was in Addis Ababa (“new flower”) and was invited into his home for a coffee-making ceremony and dinner made by his wife Alem. Just a really down to earth fellow, but a small god to Ethiopian people.kk
THIS EXPERTLY WRITTEN PREVIEW BY STEVEN DOWNES APPEARS COURTESY OF THE IAAF WEBSITE WHERE IT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED.
Gebrselassie and Kastor the favourites on London’s ‘speedy, classic’ course - PREVIEW
Friday 21 April 2006
London, UK - When some of the marathon stars who are returning to London after an absence of a couple of years, men such as Haile Gebrselassie and Khalid Khannouchi, get into the final 10 miles of Sunday’s Flora London Marathon, they might just be forgiven for doing a double take as they are directed eastwards, straight down the Highway, just after 21 miles.
Haile Gebrselassie wins Arizona Half Marathon in a World record (pending)
For the famous London course has been transformed since 2004, with large sections of narrow, winding roads, and possibly the most famous section of cobbles in the world, eliminated from the route.
Such pragmatism by the event organisers, as they again cater for a field of more than 45,000, has raised the likelihood that London will reclaim its status as a world record course for more than just the size of its field.
Martin Lel took three minutes off his fastest marathon time to record 2:07:26 last year, and even the organisers suggest that at least 45 seconds to 1 minute of that may have been due to the revisions to the course.
Martin Lel wins the 25th Flora London Marathon
Gone are the twists and turns through Wapping (always a bad spot for TV pictures), and gone, too, is that notorious 200-yard stretch of ancient cobblestones besides the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge in the background, for a shot so beloved of sports photographers for two decades.
Of course, the London course has been changed before. Throughout the development of Docklands, there was a year-by-year evolution of the route in the easternmost part of the course. And the race finish has been on Birdcage Walk, then Westminster Bridge, until moved to The Mall.
Some might ask whether the latest round of course changes have been deliberately designed to reclaim world record status since Paul Tergat - ruled out of London this year through injury - set the men’s world record of 2:04:55 in Berlin in 2003. Certainly, other races in the World Marathon Majors series of five top events have a different attitude to their event heritage.
Stefano Baldini (ITA)
“You could say that there are two different groups of races today,” said one marathon expert from America.
"There’s the classic courses, and there’s the speed courses. Boston has hardly changed its course at all in 100 years, and there’s been just one significant change to New York’s course in the last 20 years, and that was done mainly for TV.
"Since the early 1980s, though, you have seen ‘speed races’ such as Rotterdam, Berlin and Chicago develop which are deliberately aimed at producing the fastest possible times.
Jaouad Gharib of Morocco
“London is the one event that seems to straddle both categories.”
MEN - Too much competition for a record bid?
And while the women’s favourite, Deena Kastor, is aiming for a sub-2:20 clocking, no one considers that Paula Radcliffe’s 2:17:42 will be seriously under threat. But Tergat’s record?
Deena Kastor wins the 2005 Chicago Marathon
This year’s London field is made up of a eye-catching assembly. Tergat himself called it “the race of the century”: it includes the Olympic champion, the double World champion, a former World record-holder, the defending London champion, and also the man widely regarded as the greatest distance runner of all-time.
Yet Haile Gebrselassie reckons that it is the very stellar nature of the men’s field which might work against any record-breaking on Sunday, even with the course changes.
The Ethiopian, four times World champion and twice the Olympic champion at 10,000 metres, realises better than most that races are there for the winning. At 33 and back in World record setting form with 25km and half-marathon all-time clockings* chalked up already this year, Gebrselassie now has set 20 World records or bests in his career. Yet he knows that only a handful of his records have come in truly contested races, rather than specially arranged, carefully organised, paced attempts.
Margaret Okayo - 2004 London Marathon
He also remembers how vulnerable he felt four years ago, on his marathon debut in London, when after leading to 40 kilometres, he was passed in the final mile by Tergat and one of his rivals again this year, Khalid Khannouchi, the Morocco-born American, who went on to set the World record of 2:05:38 in one of the greatest marathon races of all-time.
“I remember 2002, when I was in front for until maybe 40 kilometres…” Gebrselassie said. “That won’t happen this time. I will treat it more like a championship."
"You never know what can happen in 42km. I have learnt to be patient.
Constantina Tomescu wins World Half Marathon in Edmonton
When you have “all the top athletes here, and maybe not so many pacemakers, nobody wants to be in the front all the way, and you end up watching each other,” he warned.
The race leaders may well need to watch Lel, the winner of last month’s Lisbon Half Marathon, if the form of his training group is anything to go by.
Last month, David Kipkorir won the Rome marathon, Joseph Ngeny won in Dubai and Benson Cherono took the Los Angeles marathon title, while another of Lel’s elite training group, Kiprotich Kenei, was second in Paris. “It gives me courage to know my colleagues have been running so well,” said the 27-year-old. “I hope that I can do the same here in London. But it will be a tough race this time. My opponents are very strong.”
Indeed. They include Khannouchi, Olympic champion Stefano Baldini and, that arch-racer, double IAAF World champion Jaouad Gharib, of Morocco, and the 2004 London winner Evans Rutto.
Whoever wins will get an early points bonus in the new, two-year cycle of the World Marathon Majors, for a share of a $1 million prize jackpot after races in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York have been run his year and next.
WOMEN - Patience and strength
Not that Deena Kastor will be unduly concerned. The American might have been an early contender for the prize fund, had her Chicago win last autumn been included in the series. But she says that after Sunday’s race, when she will be targeting becoming only the seventh woman in history to run better than 2:20, she will be forgetting about marathons for two years.
Kastor is the master of the negative split, running the second half faster than the first, a combined skill of patience and strength she exhibited so well in winning her Olympic bronze medal in Athens, when she got to halfway in 1:15:40 but finished in 2:27:20.
This time, her halfway target time is closer to 70min, giving her rivals such as Constantina Tomescu-Dita, the World Half Marathon champion, and Margaret Okayo, the 2004 London champion, the opportunity to hunt down the American over the closing miles.
“All of my preparation has been about running in control and doing a negative split,” Kastor said. “It will be a hard adjustment to make but hopefully it will be successful.”
“I always aimed to run fast here anyway. I am excited about my fitness levels and am definitely in shape to break 2:20."
On a domestic level, Britain is using the race to select six men and six women to run in the European Championships in Gothenburg in the summer, with Mara Yamauchi - a former English cross country champion and Foreign Office diplomat who now lives in Japan - probably with the best home chance.
After a Marathon World Cup team bronze medal in Helsinki last year, a good showing in the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka at the beginning of the month followed a 10,000m bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games for 33-year-old Yamauchi.
“I will be really happy to break 2:25, although 2:26 is probably more realistic," Yamauchi said. "I hope I can do it. London is a fast course.”
Perhaps faster than she, and many of the field, realises.
Steven Downes for the IAAF
*World records pending ratification