Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEven by his own admission, Ethiopian distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie was a mere pupil of the Marathon before his two recent victories in Berlin and Fukuoka.
“It is not easy,” he says. “But I am improving. I used to get tired in the final parts of the race because I use most of my energy in the beginning.”
But after a successful 2006 where he smashed two World records over the 20km and the Half Marathon in Arizona and improved his own national mark over the Marathon in Berlin, the 33-year-old says that his days as a student of the marathon have come to an end.
“Berlin was a big lesson and a learning process for me,” he says. “I did 95 percent of the things correctly. I need to get that five percent right next time.”
Perfect start to 2006...
The former two-time Olympic and four-time world 10,000m champion got 2006 off to a perfect start when he run a World record time of 58:05 for the Half Marathon in the P.F. Chang’s Rock n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in Arizona, USA in January. On his way to a commanding victory, he also smashed the World Record for 20 kilometres.
“The year  has been very successful for me in the shorter events,” he says. “After running on the track for many years, it was only natural for me to run faster in these events.”
In March, he run a world best of 1:12.45 for the 25Km in Alphen, Netherlands, but this was not ratified due to no test being carried out for EPO.
... until letdown in London
Gebrselassie added an ‘easy’ win in Granollers, Spain to step up his preparations for the Flora London Marathon in April, the same race where he made his international marathon debut four years earlier.
“I have never prepared better for a race than I did for the London Marathon,” he says. “My small races before London were great. I was not even thinking of winning or losing. I was thinking only of the time.”
But when he woke up in the morning before the race, he knew that months of rigorous preparations would be ruined because of the weather.
“I always hate running on wet surfaces,” he says. “When I saw that it had rained, I knew this was not going to be my day. I wanted to stop running in the final 3-4kms. I only finished because I would have had to walk to the finish line anyway due to road closures.”
His finishing time of 2:09.05 may be considered respectable by many runners, but of course Gebrselassie is no typical runner. His ninth place finish came as an embarrassment to many fans and he too felt demoralized.
“I was demoralized by what happened in London,” he says. “When I was preparing for the race, I never even thought about winning or losing. I prepared for a fast time, possibly a World Record. I had never prepared for a race better than I did for the London Marathon. I was disappointed and angry with myself.”
Any attempts of a quick comeback were dashed when he pulled out of a record attempt at the 1 Hour run, an endurance-intensive race-against-the-clock to see how much distance an athlete can cover in a period of 60 minutes.
He had also planned a 10km run-out in Sicily, but his flight to Italy had to be abandoned due to mechanical failure of the aircraft.
‘Not lucky in Berlin’
“My preparations for the Berlin marathon were not bad,” he says. “I suppose it was not my day.”
Gebrselassie was thirty seconds under World record pace with four kilometres to go in the race, but gradually slipped out of contention as the strong headwind and tiredness took their effect.
He lost thirty second in the next two kilometres and eventually finished 61 seconds behind his archrival Paul Tergat’s World record time of 2:04.55 set three years earlier on the same course through the German capital.
“Paul was lucky that day,” he said. “His pacemaker [Sammy Korir] went with him until the end and even almost beat him. I was running alone for the 25km point. He had the perfect weather that day, while the strong headwind in my race was difficult to control.”
Gebrselassie followed up his victory and national record in Berlin with another fast time [2:06.52] in the 60th Fukuoka International Marathon in Japan, a victory he believes has raised his confidence of running marathons.
“After Fukuoka, I have developed a lot of confidence,” he says. “I have worked very hard in the distance and I am getting rewards for it.”
2007 focus on London and Osaka
Following a successful 2006, Gebrselassie will begin 2007 in at the London race where he is once again slated to run against the world’s top marathon runners. “I will not run any shorter races before then,” he says. Gebrselassie is also hoping to make it third time lucky after two winless appearances in London in 2002 and 2006.
“I do not want to speak about my London prospects,” he says. “I just want good health this year. I hope I can run well if I am healthy. There will be no excuses this time.”
‘Ambitious’ about Osaka
Gebrselassie is so focused on London that he refuses to discuss his plans for future World record attempts. “I know that it is a matter of luck and time before I break the World record,” he says. “Breaking the World record is about preparation, luck, and opportunity. I had not had that opportunity until now.”
Although he remains tight-lipped about the rest of his career, Gebrselassie admits that he cannot shake off the lure of competing in the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan.
“I am very ambitious about Osaka,” he says. “It is a big competition and it is tempting when a chance to represent my country comes up. My performance in London is the key to my decision. There is also the matter of earning selection, which is not something easy because we have a lot of strong marathon runners in Ethiopia.”
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF