By DAVE SKRETTA (AP)
NEW YORK — Two-time Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie, widely considered one of the greatest distance runners ever, will make his debut this fall in the New York City Marathon.
The world-record holder will compete Nov. 7 in his first marathon in the United States, the New York Road Runners announced Wednesday. The Ethiopian star was in the city to help about 1,500 school children celebrate national running day at Randall’s Island.
“It is New York, and I was dreaming to run here in New York for many years,” Gebrselassie told The Associated Press. “If you look at the organization, the participants, from where, which country, that’s why I’m thinking to win here.”
Gebrselassie will be challenging a field that’s expected to include defending champion Meb Keflezighi and Arata Fujiwara, who set the course record while winning the Ottawa marathon on Sunday. Fujiwara will try to become the first Japanese runner to win in New York.
Gebrselassie typically runs the Berlin Marathon, where he set the world record of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 59 seconds in 2008. That race falls in late September, and the recovery time after it has always prevented him from running in New York in early November.
This year, he’s skipping Berlin for the Big Apple.
“It is pretty much a thrill of a lifetime for us to host Haile in the marathon,” said Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners. “We have looked forward to this day for literally years. Haile represents the very best of our sport and more.”
While the nature of the course through each of the city’s five boroughs will likely prevent him from breaking his world mark, Gebrselassie said he does want to challenge the NYC marathon course record set by his friend and fellow Ethiopian Tesfaye Jifar in 2001.
“Here in New York, I’m only here to win,” Gebrselassie said.
The 1996 and 2000 Olympic champion in the 10,000 meters has won more than 100 races, but only four in the United States. He’s also set 25 world records, won seven world outdoor titles, four indoor titles, and marathon victories in Amsterdam, Dubai and Fukuoka, Japan.
Gebrselassie has run the NYC half marathon before, with widely varying results. He shattered the previous course record in 2007 while winning the race, but had to pull out earlier this year when he was suffering from a cold and asthma.
He’s also had some back trouble this year, but doesn’t think it will follow him to New York.
“I’m feeling good. I’m still running. Planning is the most important part,” Gebrselassie said. “It’s doing good. But once you start running, you cannot complain, you know? This is what I have to do and this is a part of my life.”