post Haile: Out of Olympic Marathon?

March 19th, 2008

Filed under: Sports — Lissan Magazine @ 22:38

Citing Pollution, Gebrselassie Opts Out of Olympic Marathon

Published: March 11, 2008

Haile Gebrselassie, the world-record holder in the marathon and perhaps distance running’s biggest name, said Monday that he would not compete in the marathon at the Olympics in August because of concerns about the effects of the city’s pollution, heat and humidity. He said he still hoped to run in Beijing in the 10,000 meters.


“The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42 kilometers in my current condition,” he said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Gebrselassie, 34, has exercise-induced asthma, his agent, Jos Hermens, said in a telephone interview Monday. Gebrselassie feared that the conditions expected in China could damage his body and prevent him from competing on a high level in the future, Hermens said. “He’s still on top of the world, he’s still very fit, his body is still in good shape,” Hermens said. “And he still has some big dreams.”

Gebrselassie has won several world titles in distance running and two Olympic gold medals in the 10,000 meters. His decision is a blow to Beijing Olympic officials, who have sought to allay athletes’ concerns about pollution by promising to improve air quality before the Games.

Justine Henin, the world’s top-ranked women’s tennis player and the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, said she was considering not competing in the Olympics because of air-quality concerns. Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Olympic teams have been preparing for months to combat the effects of pollution at the Games. The United States Olympic Committee’s lead exercise physiologist, for example, is urging American athletes to wear specially designed masks in the days leading up to competition. Some American teams are planning to train in South Korea and Japan instead of China.

Gebrselassie plans to compete in the 10,000 in Beijing provided he qualifies for the event during the Ethiopian team’s Olympic trials May 24 in the Netherlands, Hermens said. Gebrselassie has never won an Olympic gold medal for the marathon, but he set the world record last fall at the Berlin Marathon, finishing in 2 hours 4 minutes 26 seconds.

For many athletes, the Olympics represent the zenith of their sport; few would even entertain the notion of not competing.

But for long-distance runners, the marquee fall marathons like those in Berlin, Chicago and New York carry perhaps more prestige and financial reward.

Dathan Ritzenhein, a marathon runner on the United States Olympic team, said he could understand why someone like Gebrselassie would forgo the marathon in Beijing. “He’s won multiple Olympic Games and he’s basically accomplished everything in the sport,” said Ritzenhein, 25. “For me, it’s totally different. I’ve never accomplished what he has yet, and so for me, I’m looking at it as a huge opportunity.”

Gebrselassie receives appearance fees of at least six figures for major marathons. Hermens said Gebrselassie had not decided where he would compete in the fall, but he said Gebrselassie was eager to break his world record, possibly in Berlin.

“Haile is an astute businessman, and I think this decision reflects who he is as a person,” said Mary Wittenberg, director of the New York City Marathon.

“He’s smart, he’s analytical. I think he’s very realistic and he’s the ultimate competitor, who wants to win.”

For now, however, Hermens said Gebrselassie was disappointed that news of his decision leaked Monday, instead of after the qualifying trials in May, when he had hoped to make a public announcement.

“It will be a big disappointment for the people in Ethiopia to think that he will not compete,” Hermens said.

Source: The New York Times

1 Comment »

  1. Haile makes six figures to appear at major marathons, but that’s because he’s the favorite to win/break the record. He seems to have a lot of record breaking in his goals still, too. I could only see him running the marathon if he were no longer a threat to do break records or when those appearance fees have decreased substantially.

    I can totally see why he would feel the risk of running in Beijing is too high.

    Comment by bryan — 20. March 2008 @ 07:21

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