Feb 24 (Reuters) – Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie has set his sights on reclaiming his world marathon record in Tokyo this weekend, five months after losing it to Kenyan Patrick Makau.
“I have come here in a good condition,” the 38-year-old dubbed the “Emperor” told reporters ahead of Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon.
Gebrselassie was scheduled to run in Tokyo last year but suffered a fall in training and pulled out with bruised knees.
His luck went from bad to worse when he pulled out of September’s Berlin Marathon with asthma as Makau raced away to set a new world best of two hours, three minutes and 38 seconds.
Gebrselassie’s previous record stood at 2:03:59.
The twice Olympic and four-times world champion in the 10,000 metres, who insists he will compete at this year’s London Games, will face a strong field in Tokyo.
Race record holder Viktor Roethlin of Switzerland, last year’s winner Hailu Mekonnen and Japanese talent Yuki Kawauchi in the field, Sunday’s race could be run at a cracking pace.
“This course is one of the fastest in the world,” said 2010 European champion Roethlin, winner of the 2008 Tokyo Marathon in 2:07:23. “I believe Haile can run very fast on this course.”
Gebrselassie insisted that the fact marathon running holds a special place in Japanese heart was not lost on him.
“The marathon in Japan is a culture, a tradition,” he said. “It’s serious.”
Roethlin spoke of the hushed awe in which the runners were treated in Japan.
“It’s not just a race, it’s a philosophy,” he said.
“The crowd is unbelievable. In Tokyo, there are more spectators than in New York but they don’t make noise like they do in New York.
“It’s more like a sound of respect and it gives you a lot of energy.”
Gebrselassie gave an insight into what made him tick.
“In a marathon you run against the distance, not the athlete,” he said. “That’s the difference between the marathon and 10,000 metres.
“I used to be a 10,000 runner and the marathon is the one you have to run perfectly. That’s why I could not run last year because I fell down in a forest three weeks before the race.
“I have been very careful over the past month not to repeat the same mistake.”