Athletics: Gebrselassie returns to Berlin Marathon

AP, Friday 23 Sep 2011

Haile Gebrselassie returns to the Berlin Marathon, the site of his world record performance, hoping to secure a place on the Ethiopia team for next year’s Olympics in London

Haile Gebrselassie

Gebrselassie became the first man to break 2 hours, 4 minutes in a marathon when he ran 2:03.59 on Berlin’s flat course in 2008.

The 38-year-old runner has won the Berlin Marathon four straight times from 2006 and will face last year’s winner, Patrick Makau of Kenya, in Sunday’s race that finishes at Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate.

“London is everybody’s dream. This is part of my plan for the London Olympics. I have to qualify for London, so I’ve come here, not necessarily for the win, but for the time,” Gebrselassie said.

“It’s a big challenge with the youngsters back home. If I don’t run a good time they won’t let me run in London next year. This is the best chance to get a good time.

“The marathon medal is the most important, especially for Ethiopians, historically, ever since Abebe Bikila won in 1960. If you go home to Ethiopia after a race, and say you won, people will say, was it a marathon? You say, no, it was a 10K, and they say, oh.”

Gebrselassie won Olympic gold medals in the 10,000 meters in 1996 and 2000. He also won four straight world titles in the distance before switching to marathon.

He skipped the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, fearing pollution would affect his running. He ran the 10,000 instead and finished sixth.

Gebrselassie pulled out of the New York City Marathon in November with a knee injury and retired immediately after the race. But he changed his mind eight days later.

He injured both knees when he fell during a training run in the rugged countryside of his homeland but came back to win a half marathon in Vienna, Austria, in April. He also won the 10,000-meter Great Manchester Run in May.

Gebrselassie is not the only runner to have had problems.

Makau fell in the London Marathon in April, although he rallied to finish third in 2.05.45.

“I’m not under pressure, because I’m running with the champion. I’ve done just a few marathons, Haile has done many marathons with fast times. It’s an opportunity for me to learn and get more experience,” the Kenyan said.

“Last year, conditions were not favorable. This Sunday looks as if the weather will be good, so I’m hoping to do better,” he said.

Makau won in heavy rain last year. The forecast for this Sunday is sunny and warm.

Among the women, Paula Radcliffe of Britain returns to the marathon course for the first time since finishing fourth in New York in 2009.

Radcliffe has never run in Berlin and is coming off injuries and the birth of her second child. Her biggest rival is expected to be Irina Mikitenko of Germany.

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