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Gebrselassie surprised by “brother” Tergat

“We have come a long way together.”

That’s how Paul Tergat began his surprise introduction of Haile Gebrselassie at Friday’s press conference, and he could not have spoken truer words. Two of the greatest high-stakes track duels in history – at 10,000 meters in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics – were between these two men, whose long and intense rivalry has spawned a deep friendship.
“We are brothers,” said Tergat, the great Kenyan, of Gebrselassie, the great Ethiopian, who was near tears.

Gebrselassie holds the world record (2:03:59) and has won nine marathons, but Sunday’s race will be his first attempt at the ING New York Marathon – and his first marathon ever in the United States. “I planned this for many years,” he said.
“If you run a marathon, how can you stop running without running New York? It’s not the one [where] you run a fast time, it’s the one you run to win.”

At 37, Gebrselassie leads a full life. He has three daughters and a son, owns a firm that has built schools, a cinema and a resort and employs more than 600 people. He is looking toward a life after competition, perhaps in politics. He intuitively grasps the impact of Edison Peña (“Oh, God, I want to see this man, too. Imagine these people; they were between life and death.”) But he is still first and foremost one of the best distance runners in history — if not THE best — with 27 world records and two Olympic gold medals.

Yes, Gebrselassie beat Tergat in both of those 10,000-meter duels: both by less than a second, the 2000 victory in a heart-stopping come-from-behind surge in the last 30 meters.

Tergat won a similar sprint to the finish here in 2005, when he broke the tape in front of a diving, falling Hendrick Ramaala. On Friday, he was posed this scenario: it’s Gebrselassie and another athlete, final 200 meters, one on one. What would he tell the other athlete?

“That he has no chance,” said Tergat. Gebrselassie may have lost to Tergat in the 2002 London Marathon — the Ethiopian’s first — but in 2007 broke Tergat’s marathon world record and has not relinquished it. Tergat knows that combination of speed and experience will prove lethal down the home stretch.

Now 41, Tergat is retired. “I wish I could have had more time to compete with him,” he said.  Gebrselassie, however, shows no signs of stopping. Taking mock offense at a question about whether he believes he can lower his world record (“You think I’m old?”), he offered a glimpse into the depths of what drives him.

“Well, one thing I want to tell you, even if I cannot break the record, I have to tell to myself I have to break it. This is what sport is. I mean, of course my plan is to [bring] down my time. I will do it. Why not? The more you age, the more you’re getting stronger. I still feel like age of 20.”

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