Gebrselassie Sets World Record in Berlin Marathon – By LIZ ROBBINS

September 30th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

BERLIN, Sept. 30 — Cruising alone for the final seven miles on Berlin streets lined with damp, golden leaves Sunday morning, Haile Gebrselassie shattered the world record in the marathon by 29 seconds, securing a mark he has coveted since he was a teenager in Ethiopia. (more…)

BERLIN, Sept. 30 — Cruising alone for the final seven miles on Berlin streets lined with damp, golden leaves Sunday morning, Haile Gebrselassie shattered the world record in the marathon by 29 seconds, securing a mark he has coveted since he was a teenager in Ethiopia.


The rain and wind had stopped by 9 a.m. after a soggy three days, and, along with a flat course and five pacesetters flanking him, the conditions were ideal for Gebrselassie’s record run of 2 hours 4 minutes 26 seconds for the 26.2 miles.

Paul Tergat of Kenya had set the previous world record, on this same course, in 2003. To the 34-year-old Gebrselassie, this world record, his 23rd in distances ranging from two miles to the marathon, was the most satisfying.

“Without question,” he said, grinning. “Because it is the king of distance.”

Gebrselassie wore his laurel crown with regal familiarity, saluting the crowd at the finish line, hugging and thanking his pacesetters and high-fiving streams of runners as they finished an hour after he did.

Next came two important telephone calls, a half-hour later at the finish line. The first was from his wife, Alem, who was crying back in Addis Ababa. The second was from his friend, Tergat. “I said to him, Sorry, Paul, try next year,” Gebrselassie said with a laugh.

As he did in his last race, the New York City half-marathon in August, Gebrselassie won with matter-of-fact perfection. He led from start to finish, helped by formidable marathoners like Rogers Rop, who served as one of his pacesetters. “I promised to run 2:03; that didn’t happen,” he said. “But it’s already a miracle now.”

With Abel Kirui of Kenya finishing second in 2:06:51, Gebrselassie’s only competition came from the clock.

Gebrselassie repeated as champion, besting his 2:05:56 time of last year. His friend and neighbor, Gete Wami, defended her Berlin title by leading from start to finish, taking a 30-second lead two miles into the race and winning in 2:23:17. Irina Mikitenko of Germany finished far behind her in second, in 2:24:51.

Wami was eight minutes off world-record pace, but she had a different goal, establishing plenty of intrigue for a women’s duel in New York five weeks from now. Wami, 32, will attempt to win the New York City Marathon, hoping to capture the $500,000 prize for the first World Marathon Majors series that concludes Nov. 4.

Wami moved into first place with 65 points, ahead of the two-time defending New York champion, Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia, who has 55 points. A victory in New York would give Wami 25 points; second place is worth 15 and third place is worth 10.

Wami acknowledged that she eased up the pace in the final seven miles. “From the beginning, I was running with New York in my thoughts, so it was difficult to push 100 percent,” she said. Running with a male pacemaker the entire distance had aided her victory, she said.

In a way, both the men’s and women’s races in Berlin seemed like glorified time trials, with the runners taking advantage of the pacemakers to reach their goals. The slower New York City Marathon, with its bridges and hills, will not feature pacesetters for the first time this year as an experiment.

Still, Gebrselassie seems to run to his own metronome. Like Tergat four years ago, Gebrselassie ran the second half of the marathon faster than the first — this time in 61 minutes 57 seconds. He took off when all five pacesetters dropped off after 18.6 miles, sensing by about the 22-mile mark that the record was his.

He was not so confident Saturday, a blustery and wet day, when he had talked to his wife and told her he doubted he would get the record. But he slept well (his manager had to wake him at 6 a.m.), he put on shoes he usually uses for wet roads, and let the course unfold before him.

When he was a boy and first started running, he said, he planned to run a marathon. He recalled that at age 15 he ran his first marathon in 2:48. “My dream has come true,” he said.

What is left for him? He laughed off a joke of running a 100-kilometer race, but turned serious, as if seeing his next finish line already. “The Olympics,” he said.

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