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Manchester, UKIt’s been less than eight months since Haile Gebrselassie last competed in England. Then, he won the Bupa Great North Run in Newcastle in September, but a lot has happened since in the career of the Ethiopian, who is considered to be the greatest long distance runner of all times.
He first dropped out of the New York Marathon and then announced that he would retire from the sport completely. Then Gebrselassie made an U-turn and continued his career. But an injury forced him out of February’s Tokyo Marathon. At last he confirmed that he is back in fine form, when he cruised to a Half Marathon victory in Vienna in April.
While his last appearance marked the first time he competed in Austria Gebrselassie now comes back to familiar territory. The 38-year-old is the main attraction on Sunday’s Bupa Great Manchester Run. The 10Km road running event, which will be broadcast live on BBC 2, is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Men’s Race - Gebrselassie goes for No. 4
Wherever Gebrselassie goes superlatives seem to be inevitable. On Sunday he could become the first runner to achieve a hat trick in Manchester. He has won the race the past two two years and with three wins (his first was in 2005) he is already the most successful athlete in the history of the event. However he did lose his British all-comers record 10Km record, which he had established in Manchester with a 27:25 run in 2005. Two years later Kenyan Micah Kogo took the race, beating Gebrselassie’s record by four seconds.
If weather conditions are suitable on Sunday Gebrselassie may try to regain that record. The Ethiopian had been in a very positive and optimistic mood after running 1:00:18 in Vienna.
“For me running is like my daily nutrition. You could say I have breakfast, running, lunch, running, dinner,” said the World Marathon record holder (2:03:59), who seems to enjoy being back in normal (running) life. “I am now confident that I can run a good Marathon in autumn. My time in Vienna is okay. It is not so easy to break one hour if you are running alone and without pacemakers.
Due to the absence of strong Kenyan and Ethiopian opposition it is hard to see how Gebrselassie could not achieve victory number four on the streets of Manchester. Among his rivals are Serhiy Lebid of Ukraine), Australia’s Craig Mottram, Irishman Martin Fagan and Abderrahime Bouramdane of Morocco. But the runner who recently showed fine form is from Great Britain: Chris Thompson. The 10,000m silver medallist from the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona has improved his personal best at the distance on the track to 27:27.36. The 30 year-old is the leading European 10,000m runner in 2011.
However it is highly unlikely that Thompson can stage an upset, beat Gebrselassie and become the first British male runner to take the Great Manchester Run.
“The task is a big one, and if I can manage it will be easily the biggest win of my career to date,” Thompson said. “For me it is simply a great opportunity to race someone of his stature and calibre. To be considered in the mix by people is awesome and I will embrace that and give the man and the field the best race I can. I feel I have a good balance of respect and ambition right now. But one thing is for certain: it should be a great race and I am glad to be part of it.”
Adere looking for repeat as well - women's race
While Gebrselassie will go for victory No. 4, Berhane Adere looks to add to her multiple wins in Manchester as well. The Ethiopian won in 2003 and then established the current course record of 31:07 three years later. That time also still stands as an Ethiopian record. There is another parallel with Gebrselassie: When Adere last competed in Great Britain she won the Great North Run.
So Manchester could see the same winning pair as Newcastle. But it looks to get much tougher for Adere to cross the line first on Sunday. While Paula Radcliffe will miss out because of a throat and chest infection, the 37 year-old will be up against Kenya’s Grace Momanyi, the 29-year-old Commonwealth 10,000m champion. And her current form suggests that the Kenyan might be stronger. While Momanyi established a personal best in the half marathon in March (1:08:41 in Lisbon/third place) Adere had to be content with finishing fifth in a 10Km race in Dublin in April (33:54). Momanyi has been successful at other races of the British Bupa series as well. In 2008 she took the Great Yorkshire Run in Sheffield (10Km) and last autumn she won the Great South Run in Portsmouth (10 miles).
Another east African runner could well snatch victory from the two more prominent names: Aheza Kiros, who has done very well this spring. First the 29-year-old Ethiopian established a Half Marathon best of 1:09:10 in Paris, then went on to take the prestigious Carlsbad 5000 road race in the US, clocking 15:13.
While Portugal’s Sara Moreira enters the Manchester race with a fine personal best of 31:25 two European Marathon specialists are also in contention. But Christelle Daunay (France) and Anna Incerti (Italy) may lack a bit of speed when it comes to a ‘short’ 10Km race.
Despite the absence of Radcliffe, who now plans to run her comeback race in the London 10Km on 30 May, there is hope for good British performances. Charlotte Purdue, still just 19, has shown a string of fine performances this year. In April she won the Dublin 10Km with 32:42, leaving behind Adere by more than a minute. Helen Clitheroe, the European indoor 3000m champion, is the other British woman to watch.