Haile is the king of the marathon, with his 2:04.26 world record. Dubai is his last marathon before the Olympics and it could be close! In this piece by Pat Butcher, our fearless world correspondent, Haile comes across as a man who has used his running talent for good for an entire country! See what you think and email me at [email protected]
Under two weeks to go until Haile Gebrselassie’s next date with destiny - the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Friday, January 18 - and the Emperor is being a bit cagier than his manager. Last week, Jos Hermens said, “I and he are certain he can do under 2.04”. Geb himself however has one or two caveats, and is making no predictions. At least, not yet!
“Yes, I did 2.04 in Berlin (a world record 2.04.26 three months ago),” said Gebrselassie by phone from Addis Ababa at the weekend. “But everything was perfect, the weather, the course, the pacemaking. Sure, it’s possible to do under 2.04, but everything has to be perfect again”.
Forecasts at the moment for early morning in Dubai next week are similar to Berlin in September, ie a temperate 13-15 celsius (55-60F). “That would be great, wonderful,” he said. As for the Dubai course, the new one out and back along the corniche past the 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel has fewer turns. Last year’s winner William Todoo Rotich said immediately after his victory, “sub-2.05 is possible on this course”.
Whether Dubai can match up to Berlin’s superfast course, which has realised five world records in the last decade is another matter. Then again, Haile Gebrselassie is another matter, as 26 world records and bests underline.
As far as pacemaking goes, the line-up for Geb is arguably the best in the world. Former world half-marathon champion, Fabiano Joseph of Tanzania has been enlisted, and should be joined by 2002 New York and Boston marathons winner, Rodgers Rop, who paced Geb to 30k in Berlin; as long as Rop can get out of a Kenya increasingly beleaguered by tribal strife.
On that score, Geb is as mystified as most people. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” the multiple world record holder said. “We don’t expect it in Kenya. It’s so sad. Normally Kenya is more democratic than the rest of Africa. It makes me feel very bad”.
Dubai will be his last marathon before the Olympic Games in Beijing in August. He is making no presumptions on that front either, given that the Ethiopian marathon team has yet to be announced. “No, I’m not yet selected,” he said laconically, “though I am top of the candidates. We’ll see…”.
His lengthy career - he has been at the top since 1992 – the Olympic and world titles, and all those records might make him seem little more than a running machine from the breathless heights of East Africa. But his celebrity has permitted him to break new ground in other areas in Ethiopia, where his business interests stretch from real estate to health centres, to sponsored schools, to being the first private cinema chain owner in Ethiopia.
“When I started in real estate, not many people were in real estate, now there are thousands,” he says. “If I build something, people follow. I launched the first private cinema in Ethiopia, in Addis. There were none (private) before, they all belonged to the government. Now there are many.
“The time when I built that cinema, there were no rules and regulations for private cinema, it took me one year to get a licence. Most of our government cinemas showed western movies, so people didn’t care about Ethiopian movies. Now everybody watches Ethiopian films, I’m so happy.
“Apart from training, the problem is how to handle the businesses, I have responsibility for my employees, 400 or more….”
Richard Nerurkar, the British former World Cup marathon champion is best placed to judge how well Haile juggles all his roles. Nerurkar works with Haile on development and educational projects in Ethiopia, among them the Great Ethiopian Run.
“Haile is amazing,” says Nerurkar. “He never stops training hard. And that’s even more amazing when you see all the other things he does in his life. His preparation for Dubai has been good – but I would say that about all of his last seven marathons.
“Berlin taught Haile, I think, how to run the perfect marathon. He now knows the distance so much better than three years ago. But you’d also have to say that you need some luck for things to work out as they did in Berlin”.
And Haile himself? “Training is OK, everything is OK, I have to be in good shape, but shape is not enough. The day of the race is also important. I’m waiting ‘til I get to Dubai, and it’s still two weeks to go. I’ll tell you two days before”.
There you have it. Watch this space!
We will keep you updated on the dispatches from Pat Butcher on the Dubai Marathon
and Haile's last marathon before Beijing.
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