Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wanjiru saddened by Gebrselassie's retirement

By Joe Battaglia, Universal Sports

When Sammy Wanjiru woke up this morning and went to breakfast, he was hit with questions he was unprepared to answer by his fellow runners.

"Everyone kept coming up to me and asking me if I had heard about Haile," Wanjiru said. "I watched the race from the finishing point so I knew he dropped out. But that was all."

Consider the newly-crowned World Marathon Majors champion among those stunned by the news that Gebrselassie, the world record holder in the marathon and arguably the greatest distance runner in history, announced his retirement following his premature exit from the ING New York City Marathon.

"I didn't know about it until people started coming up to me this morning and asking me about it," Wanjiru said. "I don't know if he said that because he was mad that he had to drop out of the race or if he really means it."

It is becoming ever clearer that Gebrselassie meant every word when on Sunday he said, "I myself I don't want to complain anymore after this, which means it's better to stop here. I never think about to retire. But for the first time, this is the day."

It is becoming increasingly clearer that when Gebrselassie stepped off the dais to applause without looking back, that he was indeed walking off into the sunset.

Had it been the emotions of tendinitis in his right knee forcing him to stop running 16 miles into the race, would the Ethiopian great have passed on attending a post-race function he had committed to and instead abruptly shortened his travel itinerary and flown back home to Addis Ababa?


And for one, Wanjiru is saddened by Gebrselassie's evident exit from the sport.

"He is a role model for all of Africa," Wanjiru said. "This entire generation, whether in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, look up to him because Haile ran many years, and he won many races at many distances. He is a great champion. Since I was in high school, he was the runner I looked up to."

Since winning gold in the Beijing Olympic marathon, Wanjiru has also had his eye on beating Gebrselassie and breaking his marathon world record of 2:03:59. With the likelihood of that long-anticipated showdown diminishing by the minute, Wanjiru is left wistful.

"Before he gets out of training, I hope that he comes back one more time because I want to run against him," Wanjiru said. "I need him to come back again, only to run one."

As the owner of 27 world record, two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships, Gebrselassie has nothing left to prove. With his body and spirit broken at the age of 37, there is no reason for him to return and race a man a decade younger, with fresher legs, and bountiful ambition.

Gebrselassie acknowledged as much when he said, "let me give a chance for the youngsters."

That leaves Wanjiru on his own to chase Gebrselassie's world record. He is already formulating his plan of attack.

"I have to go to Berlin to do it," said Wanjiru, who has won on flat courses in London and Chicago but came nowhere near the record in doing so. "Berlin is a very fast, very flat course, better than London or Chicago. It is also where Haile broke the record. Next year, if I get in good training I say let's try to go to Berlin and maybe try to break the record."

Wanjiru added, "It's going to be a very hard job."