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Posted: January 15, 2009  :

(RRW) Athletics: Gebrselassie Hopes For Perfect Conditions In Dubai

From David Monti

© 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

By Elshadai Negash

DUBAI (14-Jan) -- There are eight men in the elite field of the 2009 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon who have run 2:10 or faster for 42.195 km, but few gathered here will need reminding as to who is the centre of attention at the world's richest marathon race, at least in terms of prize money.

At 35 years of age, Ethiopian distance running star Haile Gebrselassie may be considered in the twilight of his running career which has now spanned more than two decades. But the two-time Olympic and four time world 10,000m champion has continued to reshape the landscape of men's marathon by running the three fastest times in the history of the event in the last eighteen months.

His latest attempt here has definitely attracted the attention of this city, the shopping and business hub of the Middle East, which is eager to get on the world running map now that its coffers have been enriched by the injection of a one million dollar prize money purse from Dubai Holding, one of the event’s sponsors, plus another $1,000,000 for a world record bonus.

"It is great what Dubai is doing for the marathon," says Gebrselassie. "Other cities in the world should follow. It is a big example and it is good for the sport."

The vision of the organizers and Gebrselassie on Friday morning is clear: make history by crossing the line at 8:33 a.m. local time. That would mean a target of middle to low 2:03's, an improvement of at least 30 seconds from the current time, 2:03:59, of course held by the great man himself.

"Last year, we made a big mistake," he says referring to the fast opening half of the race. "This year, I want something slower, 61:45 or maybe 61:40. I want an even pace."

Elite athlete coordinator Larry Barthlow, a former agent, has enlisted the services of four pacemakers who will guide Gebrselassie through the first 30 km of the race. But the man they call the "Little Emperor" says a record requires much more. There is no avoiding luck as a central component of the assault.

"Everything has to be perfect," he says. "The weather, the course, the pacemakers… everything has to be in the best condition."

Organizers have done everything imaginable to help Gebrselassie’s world record attempt. They have redesigned the course removing any tight bends and corners which may slow the runners. The start of the race has also been put back to 6:30 a.m. local time to avoid the sun coming from the back of the runners.

Although there was a heavy thunderstorm today, the weather forecast looks reasonable with temperatures at 15°C (59°F), and a slight tailwind of 6.5 km/h expected for the start of the race (the race has an out-and-back course).

Gebrselassie, too, is in the best possible condition to attack the record, he says. This time last year he came to Dubai on the back of a small knee injury and lost preparation time. This year, however, he has managed to stay injury-free in the build-up to the race.

Victory in a world record time will be worth $1.25MM to him, the largest payday in athletics for a single day's work. Yet, Gebrselassie remains remarkably relaxed.

"I don't feel any pressure," he says. "I have been running now for 20 years. If the record happens, it is great. If not, then I will try again."

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