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Gebrselassie Rues Marathon Pull-Out

‘I was here in February, I didn’t see no blue sky’

Agencies – Updated on Aug 19, 2008

Marathon world record-holder Haile Gebrselassie regrets pulling out of the race over fears that Beijing’s air pollution would damage his health. But he has not discounted running in London in 2012.

“I’m surprised. What do you expect from me? I was here in February, I didn’t see no blue sky,” the Ethiopian runner said yesterday with the sun shining in a slightly hazy sky. Asked if he was sorry not to be running in Sunday’s marathon, he said: “Don’t push me. Yes.”

Gebrselassie, 35, who suffers from asthma, announced in March that he would not run the marathon and called on China to deal with the pollution, saying it would be a hazard to athletes.

IOC chief Jacques Rogge said last year that endurance events could be rescheduled if efforts to clear Beijing’s polluted skies failed.

As it turned out, the opening days of the Games were marred by smoggy skies but the weather has cleared for the second week.

“It’s really good for everybody, good for all. To keep such clean air, that’s fantastic,” Gebrselassie said.

Gebrselassie ran in the men’s 10,000m on Sunday, an event in which he has twice won a gold medal. He finished in sixth place, behind fellow Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Sileshi Sihine, who took gold and silver respectively.

“Getting sixth in the 10,000m, it was not bad,” he said. “The only problem I had yesterday was just the last 250m, the last 300m. I have no more sprint. My training is mostly for a marathon.”

He said he may return to the 10,000m and is also keen to run in the marathon in London in the 2012 Games even though he will be 39 years old.

Gebrselassie set the world record in Berlin last year. He will return to Berlin on September 28 to try to break his marathon record of two hours, four minutes and 26 seconds, before turning his thoughts to London. He said: “I have no plans to stop running, I want to run for at least the next 10 years.

“My next competition is the Berlin marathon, I know the course well because I have run it twice. I know where I have to push the pace, that is why I do well there.”

Can he lower his world record there? “It’s a secret”, replied the Ethiopian who was 10,000m champion in 1996 and 2000.

In his absence, Gebrselassie believes triple London marathon winner, Martin Lel will be favourite on Sunday.

“It is very difficult to say who will win, but the Kenyans are strong,” he said. “Martin Lel is a good bet, but it’s an open field and you just never know.”

Gebreselassie was at the Bird’s Nest stadium to see Liu Xiang withdraw from the men’s 110m hurdles with a foot injury yesterday. Gebreselassie said he had sympathy for the Chinese athlete, who was under tremendous pressure to win gold on home soil.

He said: “Liu Xiang is obviously very sad and I can understand his pain.

“It is painful for him, but the pain is not in his leg. Where is the pain? It’s up here,” said Gebrselassie, pointing to his head.

“It’s bad luck, not just for Liu Xiang or for China, but for everyone. We all wanted to see the best race between him and Cuba’s Dayron Robles.

“The race won’t happen but that unpredictability is one of the good things about sport.”

Reuters, Agence France-Presse

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