29 NOV 2008 General News Melbourne, Australia

Haile on Melbourne 15 km – ‘For me, the time is the most important’

Haile Gebrselassie relaxing in Berlin (Victah Sailer)Haile Gebrselassie relaxing in Berlin (Victah Sailer) © Copyright

Several marquee athletes for Sunday’s inaugural HBA Great Australian Run met with the press yesterday (28) at the Park View Hotel in Melbourne. Marathon World record holder Haile Gebrselassie, Olympic marathon champion Constantina Dita, former World Cross Country Champion Benita Johnson and two-time World Cup champion Craig Mottram talked about their ambitions for Sunday’s 15 km race.

Haile Gebrselassie

I remember what happened in 1956 - the first Ethiopians to participate in the Olympic Games came to Melbourne. It used to take a week to arrive here, now it only takes 24 hours.

After the Berlin marathon I went back home, took a few days off, and then started training again. I'm ok now. But of course Sunday is going to be very challenging, it will be much faster, because it's only 15km.

Everybody wants to win. Personally, I not only want to win, but also run a good time. It depends on the weather, on the athletes, on everything. If it's nice, who knows! But for me, time is the most important.

(On training difference from the marathon)

 It's not a big difference actually, a balance of speed and endurance. When you train for a marathon, it's more endurance; for this one, a bit more speed. The gentleman next to me (Craig Mottram) has a good kick at the end, so I have to concentrate on that, and work on my speed. It's very difficult to go up and down - marathon, 10km, marathon, 15km - it's a big gap.

(On goals for the next couple of years, and continuing to break world records.)

Still to improve the marathon world record, and then of course the Olympics - London 2012. That's my plan - to reach 30 world records! I just don't know which is the next one... the marathon, and the half marathon too. We'll see.

(On his decision not to run the marathon in the Beijing Olympics)

I don't regret that. If I run the marathon in Beijing, there would have been no marathon world record in Berlin. And I have enough time to run an (Olympic) marathon - 2012 is very soon! It's not the age, actually. It's mental. If you are strong mentally, then there is no problem.

Craig Mottram

It's a fantastic opportunity to compete against some of the best distance runners in the world. I'm feeling good. Three weeks ago before heading to Ballarat to train, if you had asked me what kind of shape I would hope to be in - well I'm in that shape. I didn't miss a session, I got through it injury free. That's not to say I'll break the world record, if these guys have it in mind then they may have a little bit of a gap on me. But I'm here, and I'm prepared to race hard. And if they trot off the line and go slow, then I'll be a good challenger. If they go for the world record, then I'll try for that to, but I think it's unlikely.

This will be my longest race to date, so it's a little bit out of my element, but I'm looking forward to it, and I hope to compete well and do the best that I can. It's great to have these guys out here, and I'm not going to waste the opportunity.

(On next year and a possible progression upwards in distance)

Next year for the World Championships in Berlin my focus will be on the 5000m. And once I've done that, and got the results that I think are as good as I can get in the 5000m, then I'll consider progressing up in distance. Obviously the London Olympics are still four years away, so there is still plenty of time for me to explore other options. Whether that's going onto the road and running the marathon, I don't know, but I'm focusing on the next year first.

Constantina Dita

I was very busy after the Olympic Games where I took the gold medal. I came back to Romania and met the President of our country, and the Prime Minister.

My body is a little tired. The Ekiden (Chiba, last Monday, 24-Nov) was a short race for me, I didn't run very well, maybe from too much travel. I hope that Sunday I'll do a good job. But it's been a long year. We'll see what happens.

It will be a tough race, because somebody must win. I won the Olympic Games, maybe someone will win this race. Everybody is strong.

Benita Johnson

It's going to be a really tough race, but the exciting thing for me is that I never get to race girls like Constantina or Catherine (Ndereba) in my home country. So to have them come here for this race is fantastic. I always run my best when I'm running against high class athletes, and certainly the gold and silver medallists from the Olympics is the highest you can get! It's exciting to have another crack at them, I raced them in Beijing and didn't beat them, so I'll see how it goes.

It's so exciting to have this race finally happening in Melbourne, we've been talking about it for quite a few years, especially since the Commonwealth Games. I think the biggest thing that I'm excited about is that the Australian public can participate in these Great Runs. They can run in the same race as Haile, they can talk to us at the end of the race, and that's something that the public never get a chance to do here in Australia.

Brendan Foster (Founder of the Great Run series) -

We're very lucky to be in such a position today. The Great Run series started in 1981 with the Great North Run, which this year hit a milestone when we had our one millionth entrant. The Great North Run is going from strength to strength, and that has given us the platform to expand all around the UK, to Ireland, Edinburgh, into London itself, to Ethiopia, and now finally into Australia, somewhere I've always wanted to be. When I was a kid I was always inspired by the Australian runners. Ron Clarke, Herb Elliot were my big heroes.

Edward Ovadia for the IAAF