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Skah plans to spoil Gebrselassie's fun

Skah aims to spoil Gebrselassie's fun
Bob Frank for the IAAF
26 September 2001 - Khalid Skah is hoping to spoil the party when Haile Gebrselassie lines up in next month’s IAAF World Half-marathon Championships in Bristol, England.

Gebrselassie has a cult-like following from his Ethiopian fan club in Britain and his decision to make the world championships on October 7 his first international appearance over the distance has understandably made the headlines.

Skah, however, believes he is ready to silence Gebrselassie’s fans by taking the gold medal to add to his 1994 victory. And he won’t stop there. After that, he claims he will run the marathon in around 2:05, maybe 2:04.

There is a great similarity between Gebrselassie’s participation in Bristol and that of Skah when he won the title in Oslo in 1994. Skah, like Gebrselassie now, lined up as the reigning Olympic 10,000 metres champion with a similar reputation for leaving it late and winning with a sprint.

Also like Gebrselassie, the world half-marathon championships in Oslo were Skah’s first serious outing at the distance. Skah won that day by one second, so he’ll be hoping the similarity ends there and that Gebrselassie’s Bristol outing isn’t as successful.

Skah ran his first half-marathon at the age of 20, clocking 62:33, but he was tempted to run the world championships seven years later because he lived in Oslo where the event was held, and his victory proved as popular as any Norwegian success would have been.

His fans were perhaps worried when German Silva of Mexico led coming into the Bislett Stadium, but Skah knew he had the race under control and his 60:27 to 60:28 victory was perhaps not quite as close as it sounds.

Behind him that day were several who have gone on to better things: in third (60:54) was Ronaldo da Costa who was to break the world marathon record in Berlin four years later; in fifth (61:16) was Shem Kororia who went on to win the title in 1997; and in 11th (61:37) a certain Paul Tergat who is now the undisputed world No.1 for the half-marathon.

That 1994 victory was Skah’s last major title but at the age of 34 he believes there is more success to come … starting in Bristol. After a career of excelling on the track and cross country – with Olympic and World Cup titles over 10,000 metres and two gold medals in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships – Skah’s future now lies on the roads.

He’s already proved himself on the surface, winning that world half-marathon title in 1994, helping Morocco to the IAAF world road relay gold medals in the same year, and he also took bronze at the half-marathon in Uster, near Zurich, in 1998. But he’s convinced we haven’t yet seen the best of him.

He therefore fears no-one in Bristol, and that includes Gebrselassie, who won the Ethiopian trials in 64:34 on his first outing at the distance. “Why should I fear Gebrselassie?” he asks. “I’ve beaten him in the past and I can beat him again. The problems in my private life are behind me and I want to show people the real Khalid Skah. Sometimes you have highs in your life, other times you have lows, but what motivates me now is to be one of the best in the world again. I am ready to run well in Bristol and then I’d love to run the London Marathon – I can run 2:05, 2:04, no problem.”

The death of his father in 1996 played a big part in Skah’s athletics career going on the backburner but more recently his problems have been disagreements with the Moroccan federation. He refuses the temptation, however, to switch his athletics allegiance to Norway. “I am a Norwegian citizen, but I still want to run for Morocco,” he says, still fiercely proud of his country.

Indeed, being without a sponsor at present, he even wears his Moroccan vest in non-international competitions. Two such competitions recently have brought confidence-boosting victories for Skah. In France on September 16 he won a 10km race in 28:18 and then he displayed his trademark sprint finish in the Welsh city of Swansea on September 23 to win another 10km in 28:46.

Swansea is one of Britain’s top 10km road races and a £23,000 car was on offer if Hendrick Ramaala’s 28:02 course record was broken but Skah was only concerned about winning. He followed everything the leaders did throughout the race, first moving onto the heels of former Great North Run winner John Mutai and then 18-year-old Kenyan Julius Kibet, who won a 10km race in Cheltenham, England, in 28:36 two weeks earlier.

A first half of 14:06 suggested a fast time could be on but with the wind against them in the second half only Kibet was willing to lead. Inevitably, when it came down to the last 400m Skah said thanks for the ride and was away. His winning margin was only two seconds, beating Matt O’Dowd who will represent Britain in Bristol, but Skah didn’t look troubled.

Bristol will be a different race altogether and Skah says: “I think it will be fast and I’m ready to run fast, but the most important thing is to win rather than record a fast time.”