Paul Tergat, Kenya’s five times IAAF World Cross-country champion and double winner of the IAAF World Half Marathon title, announced here on Wednesday that he would be making his debut at the marathon in next April’s London race.
Believed to be worth up to a total of US$300,000, Tegat’s one-year deal with the Flora London Marathon is the most lucrative in the history of road running.
Under the London race’s system of cumulative time bonuses, if Tergat was to break the world best of 2hr 5min 42sec, he would top up his appearance fee with a cool $100,000.
And clearly the organisers want their race to be known as the fastest as well as the biggest, since when Tergat takes to the streets of the British capital on 22 April next year, he will be up against Khalid Khannouchi, the marathon world best performance holder.
Dave Bedford, the London race director, who has been chasing after Tergat’s signature for the last 18 months, admitted he had already spent more than his £1 million ($1.5m) race budget to sign up the former 10,000m world record-holder for his debut race over the classic 26 miles 385 yards (42,185 metres). The 2001 race will be the 21st staging of the London Marathon, which is accepting entries from a world record total of 43,000 runners.
"I have watched tapes of the last two stagings of the London Marathon," Tergat, aged 31, said. "I have had offers from many races to make my debut marathon in their cities, but I have chosen London because I have seen the last two editions of the race, and I like the spectators here.
"The marathon is a very painful race, and you need the support of the spectators to help you through the last stages of the race."
Tergat confirmed that his career as a 10,000-metre track runner had ended with his thrilling duel against long-time Ethiopian rival, Haile Gebrselassie, in the Olympic final in Sydney in September. There, Tergat collected his fourth silver medal in Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships - every time finishing behind Gebrselassie. In Sydney, Tergat lost by just 0.09sec in what was regarded as the most exciting final in the Olympics.
"I will not compete at 10,000m at the 2001 World Championships," Tergat said. "The Olympic Games was the last 10,000 I will compete in for my country. The marathon is now my goal."
Tergat said that his friend and training partner, Moses Tanui, one of the world’s top marathon runners, who recently placed sixth in the Chicago race, had advised him of how tough the closing stages of the marathon can be.
"But he thinks I can run close to the world record time," said Tergat, the only man ever to run inside 60 minutes for the half-marathon on three occasions.
Tergat said that he hoped to be selected to run for Kenya at the IAAF World Cross-country Championships, to be staged in Dublin four weeks before the London Marathon. "Winning that title five times in a row was not easy. That is why I felt I had to try something different.
My first marathon is the most important. If the pacesetters do a good job, then I hope I can do a good time."
Steven Downes for the IAAF