Haile Gebrselassie's goal is obvious. He intends to break his world record again. If he succeeds it will be the third time in a row that he would establish a new world best at the real, Berlin Marathon. So far the 36 year-old has broken an amazing 26 world records during his career.
Haile thinks that he can at least slice off another 30 seconds from his present marathon record. "If everything fits together perfectly then may be even 2:02:59 would be possible," he says, who is going for a record fourth consecutive victory at the real, Berlin-Marathon.
No one could have imagined that the Berlin Marathon would become one of the most spectacular sports events in Germany when the race was started for the first time 35 years ago.
This Sunday athletics fans could well see another thrilling race: defending champion and world record holder Haile will be up against Kenya's Duncan Kibet, who leads the current world season's list.
In the women’s race Ethiopian Askale Tafa is regarded as the favorite after her second place in Berlin in 2008. Askale’s strongest rival probably will be a fellow Ethiopian.
So far three men runners have achieved times of sub 2:04:30 in the marathon, according to IAAF. Two of them will be at the start on Sunday. World record holder Haile will line up as the defending champion in this race. He improved his own personal best to 2:03:59 last year. His strongest competitors will be Duncan Kibet with 2:04:27.
For more than two years Haile has not competed against an athlete as strong as Duncan Kibet in the marathon. This could well become a fascinating duel. "I feel honored to be able to run against Haile Gebrselassie," said Duncan Kibet during Thursday's press conference in Berlin. “My training went very well and I think it is a very good sign that my training partner James Kwambai ran 59:09 minutes last Sunday at the Rotterdam Half Marathon." Duncan Kibet did not want to comment on a possible world record attack, but said that he intends to break his personal best. For this he must of course run in the region of the world record. "After Rotterdam I though that I might be able to run even faster in Berlin. So this is why I decided to go for this race."
Looking ahead to a duel with Haile the Kenyan record holder said, "I don't know about Haile's training. And he does not know about my training. So we will have to wait and see how it develops. But I will try to run his pace."
So it could well be a top-class competition for victory in the men’s race. The 36-year old Haile will once again be chasing superlatives at the 36th edition of the marathon in the German capital: for the third consecutive time he wants to set a world record. In 2007, he had crossed the line in 2:04:26, and then he was 27 seconds faster in 2008. Already after last year’s race Berlin crowd favorite Haile had said that he thinks an improvement of at least half a minute is possible for him. Another Berlin victory would also be his fourth in a row at this race. This would be another record as no other runner has ever won Germany’s most spectacular road race more than three times.
But on Sunday, it will probably be Haile’s hardest marathon race in Berlin so far. When Paul Tergat was there in May for the 25k race and was asked in an interview who of his fellow Kenyans might be able to break Haile’s world record he named four: Olympic Champion Sammy Wanjiru, Martin Lel, James Kwambai and Duncan Kibet.
The 31-year-old Kibet has come as close as anyone else to Haile’s world record when he took the Rotterdam Marathon in a Kenyan record of 2:04:27 this April. So Kibet might also be able to run sub 2:04 in Berlin if conditions are good, reports indicate that he is in top form and many must hope a fast non-tactical duel with Haile develops.
ImageThere are two more Kenyans and one Ethiopian in the race, who want to take advantage of the Berlin course, which is renowned for producing super fast times. Francis Kiprop came fourth at the Seoul Marathon in 2008 in 2:08:30 and Mariko Kiplagat (both Kenya) had taken fourth at last year’s race in Berlin in 2:09:04. Coming third in Dubai this year was the Ethiopian Eshetu Wondimu, who was able to improve to 2:08:41 there despite bad weather conditions.
The strongest non-African runner could be Atsushi Fujita (Japan) who has a personal best of 2:06:51. This however is already nine years old. A debutant to be watched is Cuthbert Nyasango (Zimbabwe), who had been 10th at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 2007 with a personal best of 60:26 minutes, IAAF said
Askale Tafa will be the favorite in the women’s race on Sunday. A year ago, the 24-year old Ethiopian finished second behind Irina Mikitenko (Germany) clocking a great personal best of 2:21:31. With that she remained the second fastest woman worldwide in 2008.
Now Askale returns to Berlin and will be eager to further improve. She may well be able to establish a world season’s best, which currently stands at 2:22:11. Irina Mikitenko clocked this time when winning in London in April. But the 2:20 barrier could be Askale’s main goal on Sunday. Last year she had made the mistake to start the race far too fast for which she paid in the final stages.
Askale’s strongest rival probably will be a fellow Ethiopian: Atsede Habtamu clocked 2:25:17 in torrential rain in January’s Dubai Marathon, where the 21 year-old took second place. So it could well be an Ethiopian battle for victory, which will be rewarded with a 50,000 euro first prize.
And there is a third Ethiopian to be watched on Sunday: the 23 year-old Genet Getaneh will also be in with a chance. The 23-year-old Ethiopian finished fifth in 2:26:37 at the Dubai Marathon this year.
The strongest Kenyan should be Leah Malot. She has a very good long distance track record and improved to 2:30:29 at the Paris Marathon this April. Silvia Skvortsova (Russia/PB: 2:27:07), Rosaria Console (Italy/2:27:48) or Britain’s Hayley Haining (2:29:18) could be the fastest non-Africans in the field.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he is expecting Arsenal to be a stronger side this season and to make a serious challenge for the title.
The Gunners finished last season in fourth place in the Premier League, some 18 points behind the Red Devils.
Furthermore, Arsene Wenger’s side have since lost Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, which has led many to speculate that Manchester City could overhaul the Gunners this year.
However, Ferguson insists that, providing the club can steer clear of injuries, they will enjoy a strong season at the top of the table.
“If Arsenal keep clear of injuries, they'll be up there challenging,” the Scot told the News of the World.
“Cesc Fabregas has been the architect of that team for the last three or four years.
“I think they'll be stronger than last season.”
The Gunners certainly face a tricky start to the season and have a difficult opening game away to David Moyes’ Everton.
Wenger’s men then play Portsmouth at home, before taking on both Manchester United and Manchester City away.
Yet, before the Gunners make the trip to Manchester, they also have a crucial Champions League qualifying double-header against Celtic, two games which could go a long way to defining their season.