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MILLION DOLLAR MAN?
They have the world's only seven-star hotel; now they've got the world's
only 24 world-record runner. Fresh from his two most recent world bests,
last week, Haile Gebselassie of Ethiopia announced this morning in Dubai
that he will compete in the next Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon,
scheduled for January 18, 2008. That, said Haile will be his final marathon
before the Olympic Games in Beijing next summer.
The event was recently upgraded, with the injection of a one million US
dollars prize pot, with both men's and women's winners taking away $250,000
(double the biggest prize elsewhere). There is an additional one million
dollars on offer from Dubai Holding to anyone (man, woman or both) breaking
the marathon world record. Haile's old rival, Paul Tergat of Kenya holds
the men's record, with 2.04.55, while Britain's Paula Radcliffe has the
women's record of 2.15.25.
"I still have ambition," said Haile, after a morning trot along the sand
near the Dubai landmark, the Burj Al-Arab hotel. "My aims are to break the
marathon world record, and win the Olympic Games marathon. I'd like to
break the world record here in Dubai, and my training towards that begins
tomorrow. Because if you ask which is the most important, I would say my
priority is to break the world record".
Asked if Beijing would be his swansong, his reply was emphatically
negative, referencing famous Ethiopian predecessors. "I'm still only 34. If
you look at Miruts (Yifter), he won the Olympics at 39, and Mamo (Wolde)
was 40 years of age. I'll only be 38 in London 2012, so why not?"
Haile didn't do so well in London recently, having to drop out of the
marathon in April, with what turned out to be a pollen allergy he didn't
know he had. "The doctor told me years ago that I had some allergies, but I
didn't remember what, and I think global warming made London full of pollen
for this year's race".
But he stormed back in inimitable fashion. Having virtually given up the
track three years ago, to concentrate on marathons, Haile got back onto the
tartan after London, with a 10,000 metres in Hengelo, near his training
base in the Netherlands, and ran 26min 52.81sec. "That was extraordinary,"
said his long-time manager, Dutchman Jos Hermens, "he only had three
sessions on the track, and ran sub-27 minutes. If he did some proper speed
work, I think he could still run 26.30".
That performance persuaded Haile that he should have a crack at the
one-hour and 20,000 metres world records, a rare failure for him a half
dozen years ago. He succeeded this time, in Ostrava, Czech Republic last
Wednesday, when he ran 21,285 metres in the hour, having recorded 56.25.98
for 20,000 metres en route. They were his 23rd and 24th world records or
bests. Added, of course, to his two Olympic and four world 10,000 metres
titles, and almost innumerable victories and achievements elsewhere, since
he broke into the big-time, with a double victory, at 5000 & 10,000 metres,
in the World Junior Championships in 1992.
Haile's marathon best is 2.05.56, which he recorded in winning in Berlin
2006, making one of only five men under 2.06. He returns to Berlin in
September for another run in the German capital. "Ideally, I'd like him to
break the world record a little in Berlin," said manager Hermens, "then a
lot in Dubai".
"This is undoubtedly a monumental day for athletics in the UAE (United Arab
Emirates)," said Dubai race director, Peter Connerton. "Having Haile agree
to run in Dubai takes the event to a completely new level".