Haile Gebrselassie is ready to put himself on the line in pursuit of a new World record in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Friday morning (16 Jan).
Admitting again that he went too fast (61:27) in the first half of last year’s race in Dubai, he said at Wednesday morning’s press conference (14), “I’d like to do close to 62 minutes this time, not over 62, but around 61:45. maybe 61:40”. On such fine distinctions are World records wrought.
The 35-year-old Ethiopian still ran 2:04:53 last year, then the second fastest in history. But when he went to Berlin in September, and ran 62:04 for the first half, he ended up with 2.03.59, his 26th World record or best, and became the first marathoner in history to break 2:04.
But he gave the usual caveats for Friday morning, “everything has to be perfect, the weather, the pacemakers, the wind. But it is possible we might get something good.”
Accordingly the organisers have arranged a new course along the coastline, with just four turns– “as flat and as fast as anything I’ve laid out in 25 years of course planning,” said British engineer, Paul Hodgson – and brought the start forward to 6.30am, to avoid the bright sun at the finish. Temperatures should rise from around 10 or 12C at the start, to between 15 and 18C at the finish.
Following such self-assurance, Gebrselassie further demonstrated why he is one of the best things ever to happen to athletics, when he followed up a response by one of the sponsors to a question about how the global financial crisis might affect backing of marathons in future.
“They should run,” Geb recommended to the world’s bankers. “People always ask why I’m smiling. Well I’m in business, I’m also suffering, but I’m happy, because I run.”
But he looked mystified by the next question, did he fear any of his competitors? He obviously hadn’t given it much thought. But his compatriot, Tesfaye Tola won Olympic bronze, albeit in Sydney 2000, when Geb was taking his second 10,000 metres gold. Another colleague, Geshaw Melese Asfaw was seventh in the Beijing Olympic marathon; and William Kiplagat of Kenya has run 2.06.50. But they, like the other dozen sub-2.10 men in the field are likely to be as much distant spectators as the rest of us.
If he succeeds in breaking his World record, in addition to the $250,000 prize money, he will also collect a one million dollar bonus offered by Dubai Holdings, who reiterated their future support, pointing out that over one thousand of their employees were running one of the three events on Friday morning, with close to 100 in the marathon itself.
In the tenth year of its existence, and the fifth year of Standard Chartered sponsorship, the Dubai race has gone from a winter outing for a few expats to one of the world’s leading marathons.
As Gebrselassie said, “every time I come here and I come three or four times a year there’s always something new. Dubai used to be known for its shopping now it will be known for its marathon.”
Pat Butcher for the IAAF