World marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie threw down the gauntlet and Kenya’s Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru quickly took up the challenge on Wednesday, vowing to lower the Ethiopian’s world best mark for the 42-kilometre race.
And what a show it promises to be as the two runners from different generations come head on at the 2009 Berlin Marathon on September 20 bidding to lower the Ethiopian’s mark of two hours, three minutes and 59 seconds.
Gebrselassie is currently in Kenya on a sponsors’ G4S training programme that includes Kenyan cross country star Pauline Korikwiang and sprinters Obinna Metu (Nigeria), Fanuel Kenosi (Botswana) and South African table tennis star Zodwa Maphanga.
Speaking on arrival in Nairobi on Tuesday, Gebrselassie said he is working on improving on his world mark that he fell short of shattering a fortnight ago at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon after fighting against rains and strong winds in the last 10 kilometres of his effort.
The 35-year-old man from Assela in Ethiopia’s Arsi region of the Rift Valley clocked a fine 2:05.29. In his bid to get the better of Gebrselassie, Wanjiru will skip August’s World Athletics Championships in Berlin to focus on September’s Berlin Marathon.
Wanjiru, who is training in Ngong, has run three marathons in his career so far, clocking sub 2:07 times in all three in Fukuoka, London and at the Beijing Olympics.
Before tackling the Berlin course, he is planning a low-key build-up to April’s London Marathon, his only major outing being at the Lisbon Half Marathon on March 21.
“Everything is possible. It is all about trying. I’m in top form at the moment and I believe if I keep it up, then Berlin will be the best place to make my attempt,” he said.
Wanjiru, who together with London marathon champion, Martin Lel, were on course to break Gebrselassie’s record in London last year before falling off the pace, said, he will be eying to win the London race this time round.
Watching elite runners
“I will not try to break the marathon record in London. All I want is to win the race and look at the strength of the elite runners on parade.
“It will not be possible to break it when everyone will be watching your running style,” he said. But in Berlin, Wanjiru will have to battle out with Gebrselassie himself.
The Ethiopian has also confirmed that he will skip the Berlin World Championships to try and improve on his world record record.
“It will be nice to run against Haile. He skipped both the London Marathon and the Beijing Olympics, and one’s real test is known when tested against such great runners,” he said.
Gebrselassie defended himself for skipping major city marathon where strong field of runners are paraded saying it irritates him when the athletes don’t run against time but start watching each others’ steps.
He said his record may be up for grabs but noted it would be difficult for anyone to run below 2:02. “At the moment, I don’t believe anyone can run a sub-two hour in marathon. Maybe in the next 20 years putting in mind the development in technology,” he said.
But Gebrselassie has not lost hope on the only title missing in his trophy cabinet - the Olympic marathon gold medal. “I hope I will be still strong enough to compete in the 2012 London marathon. That is the title I want so much,” the Ethiopian legend said.