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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
King Haile comes to town
Haile Gebrselassie poses in front of London's Tower Bridge
Gebrselassie in London on Wednesday
By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce

Not many sportsmen walk into a press conference to the sound of a band hammering out a song in their honour.

The words are simple enough. "Haile Gebrselassie, Haile Gebrselassie, Haile.... Gebr... SELASSIE!"

The man himself looks almost embarrassed.

Four days before he runs the Flora London Marathon, the greatest distance runner of all time - four world titles, two Olympic golds and 15 word records - beams a smile and waves for them to stop.

Haile Gebrselassie practises with his supporters' band
Gebrselassie gets stuck in with his supporters' band
Minutes later, he is predicting a time for the first half of the course that explains all the attention.

"Sixty-two minutes is not that fast," he says, to audible gasps. (No-one runs 62 minutes for the opening half of a marathon.)

"If you run under an hour, it's nothing," he continues.

"The question is what will happen in the second half of the race. I believe if you can run fast from the beginning you can keep it going to the end."

If the 28-year-old Ethiopian maintained that sort of pace, he would destroy the current world record of 2hrs 5mins 42 secs, trousering a reported 300,000 in the process.

This is on top of an appearance fee thought to be in the region of 250,000.


I am ready to do something special
Haile Gebrselassie
Most critics think a new record an unlikely prospect. But Gebrselassie has been putting in the sort of mileage that gives him a chance.

He says he has been running up to 50km a day through countryside and forest, with a daily maximum of 35km on the roads.

Bear in mind that that was done at 2,500m above sea level, and you begin to understand what sort of shape he is in.

"Many people want to see a world record in London. If it is possible I will try to do what people expect," he says.

"I feel very good. I am ready to do something special."

So painful

Gebrselassie is a diminutive man. Surrounded by a swarm of British and African journalists, he is frequently lost from view.

You can rest assured that will not be the case on Sunday. He may have clocked 2hrs 48mins in his only previous marathon - but that was at the age of 15, in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

"I ran that marathon just to see how the city looks," he said. "I had never seen such high buildings before.

Haile Gebrselassie studies a map of London
Haile works out his route to success pre-race
"During the race I was okay, but crossing the finishing line I couldn't walk any more.

"I had my head down. I could not walk for three days, my body became so painful."

Gebrselassie has only been beaten twice since 1993. With the championship medals have come performances that haven't just beaten records, but redefined the parameters of distance running.

The great man's success can be put down to a potent combination of genetics and growing up.

His father, he says, was quick enough to catch him as a child when a ticking-off was to be administered.


In the marathon you never know who will be best
Haile Gebrselassie
And his daily 10km run to school - at altitude - gave him a daily training regime that few youngsters in Britain could hope to match.

Even his idiosyncratic running style has its origins in that dash to lessons.

Why does his left arm stay cocked by his side while his right drives forward as usual? Because it was his left hand that held his school books as he ran to the classroom.

He says he has adapted that style slightly to handle the demands of marathon-running.

Other tips he has picked up off his compatriots, New York Marathon champion Tesfaye Jifar and Olympic bronze medallist Tesfaye Tola.

"We train every day. They've given me advice, particularly on the last part of the competition," he says.

Haile Gebrselassie draped in the Ethiopian flag
Gebrselassie is a national hero in Ethiopia
"They have taught me a lot and I've learned a lot. It will be different when we race together - but we'll try to help each other."

Gebrselassie will renew his rivalry with Kenyan Paul Tergat on Sunday.

The two shared some epic battles over 10,000m, not least at the Sydney Olympics.

Tergat moved up distances a year before his old foe, with less immediate success than many predicted.

But Gebrselassie refuses to see Tergat's example as an omen.

"I don't think about any significant person," he insists. "I'll keep it to watching the man in front.

"If it's Tergat I'll follow him. But in the marathon you never know who will be best."

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Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie
"As you get older its better to run longer distances"
BBC Sport Online's guide to the London Marathon

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05 Apr 02 | London Marathon 2002
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