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Haile Gebrselassie set for half marathon debut Sunday on streets of Bristol

Haile Gebrselassie set for half marathon debut Sunday on streets of Bristol - Record Participation for World Championships
IAAF Release
1 October 2001 – MONTE CARLO – Monaco – On Sunday 7 October, athletes from 60 countries will compete on the fair streets of the British city of Bristol for the men and women’s individual and team titles in the World Half Marathon Championships. This record participation may be due in part to the fame of Bristol’s port and university, but mainly responsible is the growth in popularity and importance of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, this year in its 10th edition.

Haile Gebrselassie, the greatest 10,000 metre runner in the history of athletics, with his collection of records, two Olympic and four World titles, will lead the Ethiopian team. The fact that Gebrselassie has chosen this occasion to make the change from champion on the track to star on the road will add to the fascination and excitement of this event. At 28 years of age, following a delicate operation on his Achilles tendons and a tough recuperation period, culminating in a bronze medal at the recent World Championships in Edmonton, Gebrselassie now appear ready to embark on a new career.

At the end of August in Addis Ababa, he made his first outing at the half marathon, winning the national title in a time of 64:47. Given that the Ethiopian capital is situated at an altitude of 2440 metres, this is worth around 61:00 at sea level. So it is far from a guesstimate to project a time of under an hour for Gebrselassie on the flat course of Bristol: an athlete with personal bests of 12:39.36 at 5000 metres and, above all, 26:22.75 at 10,000 metres a rhythm around 30:00 at the halfway mark should not be a great problem.

The problems will arise, obviously, after the 15th kilometre. It is at this point that we will be able to see just how well the Ethiopian athlete has made the transition. To run the half marathon successfully, and above all, in the future, the marathon, Gebrselassie will have to change his regime considerably, regulating his metabolism to draw energy *ATP(from the poorer fuels of the body, the fats. This is done by adopting a specific training regime favouring aerobic resistance over power. This also results in a change in the style of race, adopting a more economical technique and the mental conditioning required to face this new type of fatigue.

There is no doubt that Gebrselassie has the willpower and the talent necessary to succeed. Nor is there any doubt that he will want to prove this in Bristol against some worthy adversaries. In addition to the South African Hendrick Ramaala who was beaten by a stride by Paul Tergat in the final sprint for the world title in Palermo, Gebrselassie also faces the Moroccans Khalid Skah and Salah Hissou.

Skah in particular, the world half marathon champion in 1994 and 1998 bronze medallist, could pose the biggest problem. The two athletes have similar characteristics and commonly adopt similar tactics following the rhythm of the others before kicking for a devastating final sprint. On this score, both have been involved in contestation in two different 10,000m finals, both involving Kenyan athletes. Khalid Skah at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992: in a long duel with Richard Chelimmo, he was accused of receiving undue assistance from Hammou Boutayeb and was disqualified and then reinstated. Haile Gebrselassie, at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart: in the last lap, running on the heels of Moses Tanui, he caused the latter (certainly involuntarily) to lose a shoe. The Kenyan lost the title to Gebrselassie by a couple of metres and no-one could say how the race would have ended without this incident.

But on Sunday, it will not be easy for either of the Moroccans to keep up the pace of Gebrselassie should the Ethiopian attempt – perhaps in a re-edition of one of the many battle between himself and Kenya’s Paul Tergat, who is running in the Chicago Marathon – to once again astonish the world as he christens his second life in athletics on the streets of Bristol.