Haile Gebrselassie ran to a 2:06:20 victory at the ING Amsterdam Marathon today, the fastest performance of 2005. Besides improving his previous personal best of 2:06:35 from London in 2002, the Ethiopian knocked three seconds from the course record set last year by Kenyan Robert Cheboror.
Despite the performance and his new personal best, the 32-year-old was not particularly pleased afterwards.
"I am not happy," the multiple world and Olympic champion and former World record holder said, explaining that a strong wind early in the race's second half proved to be a strong opponent. "I am not tired but the swirling wind in the city was a big hinderance."
Fast first half
Directly after the start in the Dutch capital's fully renovated 1928 Olympic Stadium, a lead group of seven immediately took command. Five pacemakers provided support for Gebrselassie and Kenyan Daniel Yego. Three pacemakers - Ethiopian Abshiro Tessema and Kenyans Paul Kimugul and Francis Kiprop - brought the leading contenders through 15 kilometres in 44:05, 41 seconds faster than Paul Tergat's World record pace in Berlin. At 20 kilometres, the pack had dwindled to four after Tessema lost contact; meanwhile, Gebrselassie was 56 seconds ahead of Tergat's record pace, a tempo too brisk for Kiprop, who was dropped as well by the time the leaders reached the half in 62:03, just three seconds from the target Gebrselassie had announced on Friday.
Wind takes its toll
But when the course ran along the Amstel River, the runners faced a strong headwind, resulting in a 15:07 split between kilomtres 20 and 25. His duties completed, Kimugul left the course after the 25th kilometre, leaving Gebrselassie and Yego on their own. Gebrselassie pressed the pace, with Yego dropping back after 30 kilometres.
After a split of 14:54 between kilometres 30 and 35, Gebrselassie entered what he described as the difficult phase of the race, although his 1:43:50 split at 35 kilometres was still ten seconds faster than Tergat's. Then, the Ethiopian said, forced to face the swirling winds alone, trouble set in.
"Between 38 and 40 kms I was in trouble." Gebrselassie said.
Reflecting on the effect of the wind, Gebrselassie made a few suggestions.
"Perhaps it is better to start earlier, at 9:00 instead of 11.00. At that time you are already thinking of eating again. I wanted to give the organizers here a World record."
World record still not out of reach
Despite the miss on the World record, Gebrselassie believes the standard is within his reach.
"A marathon is much easier than a 10,000 on the track. The beginning of the race was not too fast for me. Although I hoped to break the World record, this race is not a disappointing one for me. I feel fine with the training for the marathon."
Yego held on for second, well back in 2:08:58. Ethiopian Tesfaye Tola was third, clocking 2:09:17.
Completing a sweep for Ethiopia, Kutre Dulecha won the women's race in 2:30:06, with Dutchwoman Kristyna Loonen second in 2:34:08.
Wim Van Hemert for the IAAF