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Legendary Distance Runner Adds Dubai to Olympic Schedule -
Dubai (UAE): Double Olympic 10,000m champion Haile Gebrselassie will lead the field when 2008 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon – the world’s richest ever marathon – is held on January 18, 2008.
The Ethiopian legend, undoubtedly the best distance runner of his generation, confirmed he will make his Dubai debut in the US$1,000,000 race during a whistle-stop visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Gebrselassie’s confirmation is a major coup for the organisers of the Gulf’s biggest athletics event and was warmly welcomed by Event Director Peter Connerton.
“This is undoubtedly a monumental day for athletics in the UAE,” said Connerton, “Thanks to the support of Standard Chartered and Dubai Holding, the Dubai Marathon has grown in stature and now, as the richest event of its kind in the world, has created a real buzz in the athletics circles. Having Haile agree to run in Dubai takes the event to a completely new level.”
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and staged under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council – the 2008 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon will offer a total prize-fund of US$1,000,000 with a further US$1,000,000 – courtesy of Dubai Holding – to anyone who can break the world record for men or women.
And with the event coming just a few months prior to the Beijing Olympics, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is widely considered a great opportunity for distance runners, including Gebrselassie, to gauge their preparations prior to China.
Last week, the 34 year-old Ethiopian ‘emperor’ ran 21.28km in an hour to set a new world record at the Ostrava Grand Prix in the Czech Republic. On the way to the new mark, he also broke the 20km world record time of 56 minutes 55.6 seconds, set by Arturo Barrios in 1991. Gebrselassie clocked 56 minutes 25.98 seconds making it 24 world records achieved in a remarkable career.
The winner of back-to-back Olympic 10,000m gold medals in both 1996 and 2000, Gebrselassie also racked up four consecutive World Championship 10,000m gold medals from 1993-1999 before retiring from track running to concentrate on the marathon after the 2004 Athens Olympics. Since then he has been a much sought-after figure over the classic 42.195km distance winning in Amsterdam in 2005 and Berlin and Fukuoka in 2006.
His time in Berlin last year of 2:05:56 made him only the fifth man in history to run under 2:06 for the marathon and further solidified his incredible versatility giving him the fastest range of times of any distance runner in history, going from 3:31.76 in the 1,500 meters to 2:05:56 for the marathon.
“Haile is without doubt the greatest long distance athlete of the past twenty years,” said Ahmed Al Kamali, Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon General Co-ordinator, General Secretary of the UAE Athletics Federation and Al Ahli Club Board Member. “We are proud and delighted that he has agreed to run in Dubai for the first time and our thanks go to the Government of Dubai for showing its commitment and support of the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.
“Our appreciation goes to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, as well as His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, chairman of the Dubai Sports Council, Mohammed Al Gergawi, the CEO of Dubai Holding, and Matar Al Tayer, vice-president of the Dubai Sports Council.”
The US$ 1,000,000 prize fund means the Dubai race is by far the richest event on the marathon calendar easily outstripping the prize money available in the big five races in London, Berlin, New York, Chicago and Boston. The winner’s tax-free cheque of US$ 250,000 is also double that of the richest first prize currently available in the sport and takes the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon into the same bracket as the other world-class sports staged in Dubai.
For Dubai’s amateur runners, the news that Gebrselassie will pound the streets of the emirate is also a massive boost. Very few can play a round of golf with Tiger Woods or share a court with Roger Federer, but next January thousands will be able to claim that they rubbed shoulders and ran alongside one of the greatest athletes of all time.