Haile Gebrselassie, the new world half-marathon champion, could return to the British Isles twice in the next six months for two of the biggest challenges which remain to be overcome in his career.
First, Gebrselassie may race in Dublin, Ireland, at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March, when he could head Ethiopia’s bid to finally unseat the long-standing team champions, Kenya.
Then, in April, Gebrselassie plans to make his debut at the full marathon distance, and he says that he might even attack the world record.
Both events could involve the 28-year-old Ethiopian resuming his long-running rivalry with Kenya’s Paul Tergat. Tergat, winner of the world half-marathon title in 1999 and 2000, was missing from Bristol in 2001 in order to race the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, where he came second.
Gebrselassie, winner of four world titles at 10,000m on the track and two Olympic gold medals at that distance, said that his much-anticipated marathon debut will be in either Rotterdam or London. “I’ll run whichever race offers the best money,” he said.
“I also want to race on the best course for a beginner marathon runner.
“I want to try for the world record.”
Buoyed with the confidence of having just completed only his second outing over the half-marathon distance in 1:00:03, Gebrselassie said he wanted to fulfil the prediction of his manager, Jos Hermens, of becoming the first man to cover the classic distance in 2:05.
Asked if he would attempt this in his second or third marathon, “Why not try it in my first marathon?” replied Gebrselassie, clearly a man in a hurry.
Both the World Cross and the London Marathon could see the renewal of one of the greatest rivalries ever seen in the history of distance running.
Tergat, five times world cross-country champion, has been fives times denied a world or Olympic 10,000m title by Gebrselassie, most thrillingly in Sydney last year, a race which the Kenyan lost by the narrowest of margins, and then said that it marked the end of his frustrating track championship career.
But Tergat has been the master across the mud and hills of cross-country. Such has been the Kenyan dominance of the annual cross-country championships that Gebrselassie has not competed in the event since 1996, dissuaded by the tough team tactics of his east African rivals.
It remains the one major title to elude the Ethiopian, who in Bristol said: “I may do the World Cross Country next year. If I am doing marathon training, then it is the same as cross-country training.”
With Tergat possibly returning to London, where he made his marathon debut last April, it sets up the possibility of another enticing rematch between the two great runners.
Gebrselassie said that he expects to announce formally where he will make his marathon debut by the end of October.
Steven Downes for the IAAF