From pacemaker to world champion and beyond
Marathon world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie will be going for gold again this weekend when he attempts to crack Kenya’s dominance at the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon.
Ahead of his London Marathon debut on Sunday 24 April, the young Eritrean runner looked relaxed as he took his place among the world’s best marathon runners to reflect on the 26.2-mile challenge that lies ahead.
Sitting alongside defending champion Eliud Kipchoge, New York champion Stanley Biwott, former world record holder Wilson Kipsang, current world record holder Dennis Kimetto and track legend Kenenisa Bekele, Ghebreslassie said he will take inspiration from his gold-medal performance at the World Championships in Beijing last summer.
“Returning to Eritrea after winning the World Championships marathon was one of the most special moments in my life,” he said. “It felt like all the people of Eritrea welcomed me home. The ceremony when I returned is a really special inspiration for me.”
The 20-year-old became the youngest marathon world champion ever when he triumphed in the Chinese capital last summer, proving that his lack of years was no barrier to success.
When he stands on the Start Line in Greenwich, he’ll be looking to put an end to Kenya’s dominance in the elite men’s race after wins for the East African nation in 2014 and 2015.
“On Sunday I will be racing against the best marathon runners in the world,” said Ghebreslassie. “That will be very special for me because the first time I met many of them was when I was a pacemaker at the Chicago Marathon in 2014.”
Back then the young Eritrean was charged with pacing the elite men to 25km as a learning experience, but instead of dropping out of the race he decided to continue to the finish, eventually placing sixth and gaining invaluable marathon know-how, which he used to devastating effect in Beijing last summer.
Pacemaker no more, Ghebreslassie will be looking for the win on Sunday and he could well be the man to pull it off. He is the only one of the six runners assembled for today’s press conference who does not have the pressure of Rio Olympic selection hanging over him.
“There are four Eritreans racing here on Sunday, looking for Olympic selection, but I’m confident that I will be in Rio for the Olympics in the summer,” he said. “I will do my best to beat the others on Sunday and see what I can do.”
Bekele will also be hoping to upset the Kenyan party at this year’s London Marathon, but the 33-year-old Ethiopian admitted that he’s not 100 per cent fit ahead of Sunday’s race.
“Since I won the Paris Marathon in 2014 I have suffered from many injury problems,” said the five-time world track champion. “It has been difficult, but things have been getting better. I’m 90 per cent fit so my goal on Sunday is to challenge the world’s best marathon runners.”
He might be an outside bet for victory on Sunday, but Bekele’s longer-term goal remains – he wants to break Kimetto’s world record of 2:02:57.
“I believe I can do it,” he said. “I have the confidence and strength to continue my career. I’m still improving and my goal is to break the world record.
“My hunger to train hard comes from motivation and confidence about what I’m doing, and with that comes improved performance. In the last four months I have had treatment for the injuries every week and things are improving.”
Bekele currently holds world and Olympic records for both 5000m and 10,000m, but only time will tell whether he can add the marathon mark to the list. His performance at the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon could take him a step closer to his goal.