Haile Gebrselassie hasn't ruled out smashing the United Kingom All-Comers' 10 kilometres record when competing in the BUPA Great Manchester Run on Sunday. Gebrselassie insists he is in mint condition and if the early race pace is fast, believes the current mark of 27minutes 39seconds set by Kenyan Felix Limo in Swansea three years ago, is within his grasp.
The Ethiopian-star pulled out of last month's Flora London Marathon stating he wasn't fully fit enough to contest the event after recovering from an achilles operation. But in the five weeks which have since elapsed, the world's greatest-ever distance runner who has won two Olympic 10000m gold medals and set 17 world records at varying distances, is now 100 per cent fit. "I think if the weather holds and there is no wind, I can challenge that time," said Gebrselassie, owner of the world road running record mark with a time of 27min 02sec.
That performance in Doha in December 2002 earned him a massive bonus of $1 million dollars and on Friday he dismissed claims that he was paced by the race's leading vehicle. "If anything it slowed me down - I couldn't get past it and I'm saying if I had, my time would have been under 27 minutes," insisted Gebrselassie about the phenomenal performance in Qatar. He added: "I wanted it to pull ahead of me, it was an obstruction not something helping me. I didn't need it as a pacemaker. I was running for a million dollars. That was enough incentive."
Gebrselassie isn't expecting an easy ride around the Manchester streets, hence is confidence Limo's UK all-comers's performance and the course record of 27min 54sec achieved last year by Australia's Craig Mottram can be rewritten.
"It will be tough and that's why I think it will be fast from the start," said Gebrselassie in his first race since winning a half marathon in Spain three months ago. Stefano Baldini Italy's Olympic marathon champion is in the line-up along with fellow top European stars Sergiy Lebid of the Ukraine and the Spanish pair of Juan Carlos de la Ossa and Jose Manuel Martinez. "I've heard de las Ossa will be the one to watch," knowing his rival posted the fastest time in Great Britain of 28min 22sec, when winning the hilly BUPA Great Caledonian Run in Edinburgh 12 days ago.
Chris Davies the fastest Briton this year with a time of 29min 07sec, is expected to return from injury to lead the domestic challenge. The Telford postman has been suffering from a hamstring injury.
Lornah Kiplagat who ran the quickest 10K time of the year by a woman on British soil of 31min 44sec in Glasgow last Sunday, starts favourite to overcome the challenge of a field hit by late withdrawals.
Nevertheless the Kenyan-born star now running for the Netherlands, will not underestimate Ethiopia's Derartu Tulu or Jelena Prokupcuka from Latvia or even her own cousin Hilda Kibet, who finished second in their Scottish clash. Prokopcuka comes to Manchester after having beaten Tulu in the Caledonian run and January's Osaka marathon champion is eager to give another good account of herself. Charlotte Dale who has a best of 32min 13sec leads the British challenge and the former European junior cross country champion could make inroads on that time.
Certainly, given Kiplagat's front running ability and present form, the course record of 31min 50sec set two years ago by Berhane Adere of Ethiopia, will be on the line. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson heads the wheelchair entrants where Italy's Francesco Porcellato will make victory a tough task, although Scotland's Kenny Herriott should add to his Great Caledonian success.