times World and twice Olympic 10,000 metres champion, shattered the World Half Marathon record* by 21 seconds today at the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon and Half-Marathon in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. In the process he also improved* the 20km mark too.
Before today’s race, the 32-year-old Ethiopian, who won the 2001 World Half Marathon title and was the fastest marathon runner of 2005, said "Running is something special for me." He then went out and ran a race that was special for everyone throughout the world.
Competing on a cool, crisp day - ideal for distance running - the diminutive Ethiopian shattered World records in the half-marathon and 20K. Overcoming a relatively slow start by his three pacesetters, Gebrselassie was sensational after he set out on his own between the 7K and 8K marks and blazed the final two-thirds of the half marathon course on his own, finishing in 58:55. His time clipped 21 seconds off the previous record of 59:16 set by Kenyan teenager Samuel Wanjiru at Rotterdam, Netherlands, on 11 September 2005.
En route, Gebrselassie was timed in 55:48 for 20K, smashing 30 seconds off the mark of 56:18 established by Kenyan rival Paul Tergat in the Stramilano, Italy, Half-Marathon on 4 April 1998.
In addition to his two World records Sunday, the popular Gebrselassie set two U.S. all-comers' marks: 41:45 for 15K (the previous record was 42:22 by Todd Williams of the United States at Jacksonville, Florida, on 11 March 1995) and 44:53 for 10 miles (the old mark was 45:37 by Ondoro Osoro of Kenya at St. Petersburg, Florida, on 18 October 1997).
"This one is so fantastic because this is my first one in America," Gebrselassie said, referring to the most notable of his records, in the hal -marathon. "It's a little special for me. It's really, really wonderful."
When Gebrselassie raced across the finish line at Arizona State University, he was surrounded by well-wishers, many of them Ethiopians, who had been waving banners and flags, and cheering, "Haile, Ethiopia, Haile, Ethiopia," as they saw him nearing the end. Then, he was engulfed by a media horde, fans seeking autographs, spectators taking pictures and even other runners, all of whom wanted to be part of the historic event.
"Everywhere in the world, there are Ethiopians," the smiling Gebrselassie said of his countrymen. Ethiopians also are expected to flock to London on April 23 and watch Gebrselassie compete in the London Marathon in a showdown against Tergat, the World record holder (2:04:55).
"You can see from today's race," Gebrselassie said about his preparation for London. However, he stopped short of predicting a world record there. “London is going to be something different because everybody wants to run to win," he said. "I'm OK if I win. If I do not break the World record but win in London, it is something special. All the stars will be there. But we'll see. Anything is possible."
The possibility of breaking World records today didn't seem likely early on when vehicles on the course appeared to slow the runners and they were behind pace. Then, between the 9K and 10K marks, Gebrselassie was forced to break stride slightly because of all the traffic enveloping him. However, he was able to overcome that miss-step and some gusty crosswinds - he never had a tailwind - and pound his way gracefully toward the finish.
"I felt good in the last few Kilometres," he said. "I had some stitching in my side, but then it was gone."
And so were the records.
"I was dreaming about this road race," he said of his first appearance on the roads in the United States and his first U.S. race since winning the first of his two Olympic gold medals at 10,000m at Atlanta in 1996.
"My plan was to run under 59 minutes, and that's what I did."
That's what made his race so special and so memorable for everyone.
Meanwhile, Shimelis Mola won the men's marathon in 2:13:08, beating Ethiopian countryman and defending champion Terefae Yae by five seconds, and another Ethiopian, Shitaye Gemechu, won the women's race for the third consecutive year, edging her countrywoman, Askale Tafa, by two seconds in 2:31:46.
Bert Rosenthal for the IAAF
*World records - subject to ratification
1, Shimelis Mola, Ethiopia, 2:13:08.
2, Terefae Yee, Ethiopia, 2:13:13
3, Asnake Fekadu, Ethiopia, 2:15:13
4, Belay Welasha, Ethiopia, 2:17:53
5, Yuriy Hychun, Ukraine, 2:20:57.
1, Shitaye Gemechu, Ethiopia, 2:31:44
2, Askale Tafa, Ethiopia, 2:31:46
3, Hiromi Ominami, Japan, 2:36:08
4, Salomie Getnet, Ethiopia, 2:36:55
5, Abeba Tola, Ethiopia, 2:38:19.
1, Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopia, 58:55
2, Tessena Abshiro, Ethiopia, 1:02:57
3, Habte Jifar, Ethiopia, 1:04:40
4, Abiyota Guta, Ethiopia, 1:05:58
5, Fidele Barangsabe, Ethiopia, 1:08:44.