Haile’s final stab at Olympics

Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie. Photo/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Ethiopian legend seeking fast time to earn selection to his country’s Games team as he draws close to retirement

Multiple distance running world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie, flies to Tokyo this weekend looking for a final chance of making Ethiopia’s marathon team to this summer’s London Olympics.

Gebrselassie, 39, who is also one of Ethiopia’s leading entrepreneurs, will line up for Sunday’s eagerly-awaited Tokyo Marathon chasing a fast time to make it to the Olympic squad.

Sunday’s race, organised by the Tokyo Marathon Foundation, will be hotly contested as it doubles up as a qualifying race for Japan’s team to the London Games.

Nippon Television Network Corporation will broadcast the race live from 9.05am, Tokyo time (3.05am Kenyan time) with 35,500 runners expected to line up, including 100 elites, 3,000 charity runners and 3,000 members of Tokyo Marathon’s official “One Tokyo” club.

After falling out of last October’s Berlin Marathon which Kenya’s Patrick Makau won in a world record time of two hours, three minute and 38 seconds, Gebrselassie’s management at Nijmegen (Netherlands) based Global Sports Communications had initially targeted a 2:05 pace for the former world marathon record holder, although with increasingly fast Ethiopians having emerged, he will be forced to look for a sub-2:05 or sub-2:04 time - or even a world record - to convince his country’s selectors to hand him the ticket to London.

The Tokyo Marathon is the second of three Japanese men’s selection races for the Olympics. The women’s race on Sunday will be equally competitive despite an almost total absence of elite Japanese women.

In women’s field of nine foreign elites, the best entries include Kenya’s Venice Marathon course record holder, Helena Kirop, and the strong Ethiopian duo of Atsede Habtamu and Eyerusalem Kuma, all sub-2:25 women.

Gebrselassie has struggled in his last marathons, failing to finish in the 2010 New York City Marathon, failing to start last year’s Tokyo Marathon and also dropping out of the 2011 Berlin Marathon.

His most likely challenger on Sunday is Kenyan Jafred Chirchir Kipchumba, who ran an excellent 2:05:48 to win last year’s Eindhoven Marathon. The 2009 Frankfurt Marathon winner, Gilbert Kirwa, and Eindhoven third placed finisher, Michael Kipyego, both sub-2:07 runners, should also threaten.

factor into the front of the race.

So will 2011 Enschede Marathon winner Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and defending Tokyo champion Hailu Mekonnen both with 2:07 wins to their name.

Also to mention course record holder Viktor Rothlin, 2011 Bila Tserkva winner Oleksandr Sitkovsky from Ukraine and sub-hour half-marathoner, Japan-based Kenyan Mekubo Mogusu.