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Khalid Khannouchi Set for Comeback
by Paul Gains
IAAF News Service
November 15, 2005

Three years of incredible frustration are about to come to an end for American marathon record holder Khalid Khannouchi.

Largely forgotten as he convalesced from a debilitating injury to his left foot, he has reluctantly watched as Kenya's Paul Tergat beat his world record and others have racked up honours that could well have been his. Now, from his home in Ossining, New York, he is plotting a return to the top echelons of the sport.

"It has been very difficult the last three years watching people but I still believe that, if I try my best to be healthy, I can get back into it and hopefully get my world record back. But it is going to take time, says the 33 year old naturalised American.

"It has been very frustrating because, first of all, I enjoy competing and right now I am not able to do that.  At the same time you see everybody performing.  I feel I can perform even better but I can't do it right now with the problems I have. So it is frustrating it is going to take some time but I still believe I can come back and make another impression."

"I saw the Olympic race.  It was interesting to see everybody performing well. Baldini won the gold Meb (Keflezighi) who was representing our team got the silver medal and I was very happy for him. But, at the same time, the goal is to be there but you can't. And at the same time it was not in my hands."

The Moroccan born Khannouchi has set his sights on a spring marathon though he is keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to revealing which one he favours. After his training was curtailed somewhat during the Moslem holiday of Ramadan he has increased his mileage to 85 miles of good quality each week. The surgery he underwent on the metatarsal bone appears to have reduced the pain. A slight and cautious increase in mileage will follow as he gains confidence.

Khannouchi has not run a marathon since finishing fifth in the 2004Chicago marathon where he ran a credible 2:08:44 despite being hobbled by pain. Immediately afterwards he travelled the world searching for medical help. Some doctors said he has a neuroma; others diagnosed it as a deep inflammation of the metatarsal bone. Now he harbours thoughts of runningChicago again perhaps as early as next fall and race director Carey Pinkowski is thrilled at the prospect.

"He revolutionised marathon running when he came on the scene in 1997,"Pinkowski explains. "I think at that time the world record was 2:06:50 by Belayneh Dinsamo (Ethiopia).  He made everyone look at the marathon differently - he was aggressive and really affected the way people looked at marathon running. At that time he was a premier road racer, he made people re-think the process. A lot of people would run the marathon late in their career which is not the case any more."

"He has wonChicago four times and was second one year with an injury. Most recently Evans Rutto, arguably one of the greatest in the world, tried to win three times - which he failed to do. This shows what an accomplishment that is. I think he is still the greatest in the world. He is always welcome here."

Khannouchi himself is clearly uncomfortable looking back. Even at the age of 33 he is content to allow the attention to fall on Paul Tergat, Henrik Raamala and Haile Gebrselassie who have turned in the year's top performances and who will face each other in the London marathon next April. Three years ago all the talk was on Tergat and Gebrselassie but it was Khannouchi who came away victorious and with a world record of 2:05:38 to his credit. Forced to choose career highlights to date he thinks for a few seconds.

 "In the marathon I would say breaking two world records but in reality, if you look at my career, I won most of the major short races in the U.S. and I was "Runner of the Year" three years," he declares. But still the best race probably was the race I did in Chicago in 1999. On a very tough day I ran a world record (2:05:42) but with better weather I think we could have run closer to 2:05:10."

Though his goal of achieving a third world marathon record may appear fanciful to the uninitiated, there are many credible backers out there who don't doubt his ability to come back.

 "Sure he is capable," says two time New York Marathon winner, Alberto Salazar, "people have done it all the time. I really don't know the specifics of his injuries and what happened to him the last few years but do I think he can return to the top at the age of 33? Yes. Carlos Lopes set a world record at the age of 36 and, how old is Paul Tergat? I think he's 34."

"There's no doubt about it. He was completely dominant four years ago and he is definitely not too old. Whether he can come back will depend on his training, his injuries and how serious he is about getting back and whether he is willing to pay the price."

Khannouchi is still the only runner to dip under 2:06 three times, a fact that the folks at New Balance recognise. They have comfortably supported him both financially and emotionally these past three years and did not flinch even when he called Carey Pinkowski earlier this fall to pull out of the Chicago Marathon. He told the race director he was in good shape but not good enough to run with the front runners. In doing so he gave up what must surely have been a six figure appearance fee.

Apart from his twice a day training sessions Khannouchi has been visiting his family back in Meknes, Morocco. And he has also been reading up on sports injuries and following his favourite sports teams.

 "I support the Yankees," he laughs, "the Jets in football, Bayern Munich in soccer. I always like to keep up with other sports. I haven't seen a game. Not yet, only on TV.  I will stay to watch them on TV as long as it doesn't interfere with my training. I like soccer more than all the other sports. I follow Real Madrid. Every time I go to Spain I go to watch them play."

A seemingly effortless running form is what the American is itching to get back on the roads to do what he does best - compete. Those who have doubted his chances of making it back do so at their own peril.

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