A Million Reasons for the Mr. G to Break World Record, by Pat Butcher

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The Dubai Marathon is tomorrow and the current world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie has a million reasons why he should try and break his 2:04:26 world record. Our intrepid
global marathon correspondent, Pat Butcher, provided us with this column on how Haile sees his chances two days out!


A MILLION REASONS FOR HAILE TO RUN A SECOND FASTER!

dubai, wednesday january 16, 1100gmt

Haile Gebrselassie was predictably low-key just two days before his
assault on his own world record in the Standard Chartered Dubai
Marathon on Friday. And that, says his manager, Jos Hermens, “Is a good
sign. It means he’s very relaxed. A couple of weeks ago, he was a bit
uncomfortable, he had stomach problems, but that’s all over, and things
like the drinks, the scooter, the (kilometre) ‘splits’, he just says to
me, ‘you decide’. That’s good”.

Gebrselassie, 34 and from Ethiopia broke the 24th world record of his
career just over three months ago with two hours, four minutes, 26
seconds (2.04.26) in the Berlin Marathon. That set the scene for his
appearance here in Dubai in what is styled as the World Richest
Marathon, with a first prize of $250,000 and a one million dollar bonus
for a world record.

Although that was obviously his incentive to come to Dubai,
Gebrselassie is such an open and endearing character, you believe him
when he says, “the top priority is not the money, it’s the race. But
the marathon is not an easy event, you cannot predict. Everything is
perfect, I hope it will be more perfect for the race”.

One thing you cannot predict for once here is the weather. Suddenly it
has become one of Donnie Rumsfeld’s ‘known unknowns’. As Geb himself
said at the press conference on Wednesday morning, “I’ve been coming
here since 1991, and it’s the first time I’ve seen rain”. And what
rain! For five days, there has been chaos due to flooding. And more
rain is forecast, although Friday is supposed to be fine, with
conditions similar to last year, with temperatures of around 13C for
the 7am start (0300gmt).

After his victory in 2007, when he waited until 38k before he charged
away to victory, William Todoo Rotich of Kenya said, “With good pacing,
it’s possible to do under 2.05 on this course”. Well, the pacemakers,
led by former world half-marathon champion, Fabiano Joseph of Tanzania
cannot be faulted. And with one or two tweaks on the out-and-back
course, to avoid an underpass and widen the turning circle near the
7-star Burj Al Arab Hotel, the course, according to Race Director,
Peter Connerton, “is probably the flattest in the world”.

Hermens and Haile, manager and athlete have planned accordingly. “We’ll
go for an ‘negative split’(ie second half faster than first),” says
Hermens. He did 62.29 in Berlin, I’d like him to do 62.15 here, but not
too fast. The most important thing is that he feels good at 30k, when
the pacemakers drop out, and he has to do it himself”.

He ‘came back,’ as they say, with a 61.57 second half in Berlin, and if
he can do something similar here on Friday, then Gebrselassie will be
closing on the sub-2.04 of which he said he is capable immediately
after Berlin.

If anyone is going to challenge him it will be Sammy Korir of Kenya. A
year older than the Ethiopian, Korir was a stride away from being a
world record holder himself. He was pacemaker for his colleague Paul
Tergat, when the five-time world cross country champion set the
previous world record, also in Berlin in 2003, of 2.04.55.

Korir decided to continue after his pacing stint, but looked to have
conceded victory when Tergat surged away at 41k, but he came back and
finished within a stride of his compatriot in 2.04.56. “Everyone is
telling me I should have won that race,” says Korir. “When he (Tergat)
left me at 41k, I couldn’t react quick enough, because I’d used a lot
of energy pacing. But even five metres more on the course, and I would
have won”.

Korir won another fast race, 2.06.38 in Rotterdam 2006, but has
struggled with injury since then, only getting back to full training
last August. “I’ll look at the situation, the weather, the pace on
Friday, before I decide what to do,” he says, “I hope I can do under
2.06 again”.

As for Gebrselassie, he won’t have many more chances to run a fast
course like this, the more so since this is his last marathon before
the Olympic Games in Beijing in August, when the weather (hot, for
sure) and the occasion will militate against super-fast times. But even
if he takes a leaf out of his long-time rival Tergat’s book, just one
second under 2.04.26 would be a million reasons enough!

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