Haile Gebrselassie, real,-Berlin 2009 press conference, September 18, 2009. Photo by PhotoRun.net.
Haile Grebrselassie has rewritten the books on long distance running for nearly two decades. At the ripe old age of thirty-six, Haile has set the WR for the marathon twice in the last two years and won real,-Berlin for four times. He is formidable, having brought the current record to 2:03.59. On Sunday, September 20, 2009, Haile Gebrselassie and Duncan Kibet, who has run 2:04.27, will meet on the 26.2 miles of roads that make up the real, -Berlin marathon. While the weather could be warm (79 for a high is predicted), do not expect either marathoner to give any quarter. This race could be a race for the ages…read on about Pat Butcher’s thoughts on Haile and the race….
BURN-UP IN BERLIN?
by Pat Butcher, http://www.globerunner.org
At an age when most successful athletes might prefer to slump in front of the television, rather than thrash out another 20k (at altitude); or at best, hold the stopwatch while someone else goes through their paces, Haile Gebrselassie lines up on Sunday, in an attempt to win the real,-Berlin Marathon for the fourth year in succession.
As he put it at Fridayâ€™s press conference, â€œThis looks like my own marathonâ€. When someone mentioned the crowds that Usain Bolt attracted to the Olympiastadion here for last monthâ€™s world championships, he took a sly dig at the Jamaican superstar. â€œHe brought 60,000 people to the stadium in Berlin, Iâ€™ll bring a million to the streetsâ€.
But it was all done with his inimitable good nature. And given that the 36 year old Ethiopian has set a world record in each of the last two years, if he makes it a hat trick of records to go with the four aces of victory, heâ€™ll get the keys to the city as well as a piece of the old Wall. His extraordinary longevity was underlined when he reminded us that he first raced in Berlin 18 years ago, just two years after the fall of the Wall.
There are good reasons to expect another superlative performance on Sunday. First, there have been six world records set on the super-fast Berlin course in the last decade. Second, and more importantly, never one to shirk a new challenge, Haile lines up against Duncan Kibet, one of only two men to get within half a minute of the new world mark of 2.03.59 that Geb set in the German capital a year ago.
Kibet, 31, won the Rotterdam Marathon in April this year in 2.04.27, just one second slower than the time that Geb himself ran in Berlin two years ago. So yet again, Haile will have to prove himself against one of his East African neighbours, if he is to stay at the top of the marathon tree.
And he is made constantly aware of the East African rivalry. Informed last Monday that seven Kenyans had run under the once formidable one-hour barrier for the half-marathon, in Rotterdam, all he could say was,â€My God, the Kenyans have a big running factoryâ€. Suggest that he and his Ethiopian colleagues donâ€™t do too badly in the distance running domain, and he replies, â€œItâ€™s nothing like as many as in Kenyaâ€.
Sure enough. First it was Paul Tergat on the track, and later with the Kenyanâ€™s own world record 2.04.55 on the same Berlin course in 2003, that propelled Gebrselassie to greater heights. And last year, it was arguably the close attentions of the then little known James Kwambai in the latter stages of the race, which helped Haile to the first sub-2.04. Having dropped Abel Kirui (recent winner of the world title, in Berlin) at 35 kilometres, Geb thought he was out on his own. Until Kwambai appeared on his shoulder, and provoked a double take from the Little Emperor that had the TV watching public roaring with delight. Kwambai lasted another couple of kilometres, just enough to ensure that sub-2.04 for Haile.
After that breakthrough, Kwambai, who is a training partner of Kibet went on to clock the same time as his pal, for second place in Rotterdam. And Kwambai was third in that Rotterdam â€˜halfâ€™ in 59.09 last weekend. Kibet said on Thursday that he thinks that he is currently at least at the same fitness level currently as Kwambai. And since Geb said on Friday that his training has gone perfectly, it looks like we are in for a burn-up in Berlin on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the record may not go to either man, since Old Mister Sun is predicted to clock in with temperatures rising to 25 or 26C (79F).
Duncan Kibet, Haile Gebrselassie, real, -Berlin 2009, photo by PhotoRun.net
Haile is undeterred. â€œWarm weather is hard for long distance runners, last year was perfect (12-16C). But I donâ€™t want to be slower than 61.30 at halfway (compared to 62.04 last year), and would like to run 30k faster than last yearâ€. His 1.28.25 last year was close to the world record for 30k, and just in case, (and another measure of his confidence) there will be official timekeepers there this year. One advantage is that the second half of the course has a lot of shade.
Apart from naming his time schedule, he was as equivocal as Kibet the previous day about his principal opponent. â€œThis is a marathon, you run against the distance, not the competitors, the distance is the most important. And I canâ€™t just think about Duncan Kibet, there are others tooâ€. If there is to be another challenger it is likely to be yet another Kenyan, Isaac Macharia, who finished second to Geb in Dubai 2008, in 2.07.16.
Second to Irina Mikitenkoâ€™s sub-2.20 last year, which secured the Kazakh-born German the Marathon Majorsâ€™ half million dollars jackpot, Askale Magarsa of Ethiopia should have the womenâ€™s race to herself this year.
Another view of Haile Gebrselassie, September 18, 2009, real, -Berlin press conference, photo courtesy of PhotoRun.net.
The event itself goes from strength to strength, the 40,000+ entries were snapped up earlier than ever this year. This is the 36th annual race, and the 20th anniversary of the first time the race went through the Brandenburg Gate and into the old East Berlin. Nowadays, the finish line is just beyond the landmark. As Gebrselassie said, â€œWhen you see the Brandenburg Gate, you know itâ€™s the end of the race”.
Special thanks to Pat Butcher, http://www.globerunner.org
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