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|August 30, 2000||
Haile the conqueror
Beaten just once since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, only injury appears likely to deprive Haile Gebrselassie of the 10,000 metres title at next month's Sydney Games.
In the year leading up to Sydney, the diminutive Ethiopian, who has set 15 world marks over various distances, has suffered an untimely ankle injury, which cost him an entire indoor season and several months of training.
Irritation and inflammation of Gebrselassie's right Achilles' tendon was the first serious injury of his career.
He lost most time from the August 1999 world championships, where he collected his fourth straight 10,000 metres world title, until January when he began training again.
"He started a little bit late, but he's been improving all the time," said Gebrselassie's manager Jos Hermens, speaking from Monaco last week.
Gebrselassie, 27, has competed four times this season, winning all four races, including the Zurich 5,000 metres, in which many of the event's top Sydney Olympic contenders were present.
In Zurich, the fiercely competitive Gebrselassie beat his long-time 10,000 metres rival Paul Tergat of Kenya and youthful Kenyan Sammy Kipketer, who holds the world five km road race best.
"Haile felt a little discomfort in the injured foot, and he was minding that," said Gebrselassie's coach, Wolde Meskel Kostre.
"But he was watching the youth, who has run fast times this year and holding Tergat off. They were close, but it wasn't threatening."
Gebrselassie has been receiving medical attention and is training at the Ethiopian Olympic campsite on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.
"He is receiving physiotherapy and his progress looks good," said Kostre.
Hermens said Gebrselassie's winning time of 12 minutes 57.95 seconds in his last race before the Olympics had not been important but his victory had been.
"He wanted to win and he hasn't lost a race in almost four years now in the 5,000 or 10,000 metres, so that was the main objective," said Hermens.
Gebrselassie's only defeat over the two distances in the past four years was a 5,000 metres loss shortly after the 1996 Olympics where he had suffered blisters on his feet from running 10,000 metres rounds on the hard track in the heat and humidity of Atlanta, a problem he encountered again during the 1999 world championships in Seville, Spain.
The track in Sydney is not likely to cause similar problems, according to Hermens.
"It's about the same, but the important thing is it's not so hot," he said.
In Atlanta, the condition of Gebrselassie's feet caused him to abandon his dream of emulating his childhood hero Ethiopian Miruts Yifter, who won the 1980 Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres.
Gebrselassie has since focused on defending his title in the longer event at the world championships and Olympics.
"At the moment, it's only the 10,000," said Hermens.
But Kostre said the possibility of a double attempt in Sydney had not been completely ruled out.
"The 10,000 is not easy. There is the semifinal, there is the final," he said. "To do more takes determination and it requires good health. Last time, we said he will compete in both, but he had the problem during the 10,000 and he couldn't.
"From the point of view of his health and the 10,000 metres competitions, we may make a final decision to attempt it."
Athletes and alternates have been selected for men's and women's distance events from 1,500 metres to the marathon but decisions regarding 5,000 and 10,000 double attempts may yet be addressed, before or after the athletes' arrival in Sydney, according to Kostre.
Mail Sports Editor
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