NO PACEMAKERS, NO PROBLEM FOR ETHIOPIA'S TSEGAYE KEBEDE

By Duncan Larkin.
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

November 5, 2011

NEW YORK -- With all the talk about Kenya's recent dominance in the marathon and how Emmanuel Mutai will be taking on Geoffrey Mutai at the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday, one competitor may be getting overlooked:  Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede. After all, the 24-year-old did win the 2010 London Marathon, is a two-time Fukuoka Marathon champion, and owns bronze medals from both the 2008 Olympic Games and 2009 World Championships. His marathon PR, 2:05:18, is slower than Emmanuel's and Geoffrey's, but he's definitely no pushover.

At last year's Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Kebede gutted it out with the late Olympic gold medalist, Sammy Wanjiru, nearly beating him to the finish. That race still haunts Kebede to this day. Though Wanjiru came from rival Kenya, Kebede looked up to him as a friend and mentor. Through a translator, he commented about Wanjiru's tragic passing earlier this year.

"I don't know how to express it.  I still feel sad about it. After Chicago, I hugged him and said, 'I'll see you in London.' That turned out to not happen and words cannot express how I feel."

This year will be Kebede's ING New York City Marathon debut. With no pacemakers, the race will be a bit unusual for the Ethiopian who is used to the more orchestrated contests of Chicago, Fukuoka, and London.

"It's no problem," he says of the race's solo nature. "I have trained for this. I know what my pace should feel like. I know that the pace on the day of the race will be very unusual, especially before the half marathon point. Someone, just one person, could make a mistake and take it out too fast and I don't want to be that person."

A decade old, New York's course record is 2:07:43. Kebede, who grew up in poverty in the village of Gerar Ber, is optimistic about beating it on Sunday. "I think on a good day I can run 2:05," he said. The undulating nature of New York doesn't seem to phase Kebede. "I don't think this course is any harder than what we train on in Ethiopia. It's hilly in my country, too."

As he fields questions, Kebede exudes confidence and possesses a spirit of tough competitiveness. At the 2008 edition of the RAK Half-Marathon, he traded elbow's with the current marathon world-record holder, Patrick Makau. Both runners were given a 59:35 finishing time, but Makau was awarded the win. Despite this Kenya-versus-Ethiopia rivalry and Kebede's "take no prisoners" attitude, he says he's committed to good sportsmanship between the two countries. "I feel very happy representing Ethiopia," he maintains. "Some of the very best that Kenya has to offer is here in New York. But this rivalry between our two countries is friendly. This is a sport that shows our togetherness."

When he's being interviewed, Kebede, who stands at 5 feet 2 inches and weights just 110 pounds, likes to use two words:  "attitude" and "work". In his opinion, with the right attitude, anything is possible in running. "But you can't just achieve good things without hard work," he says. "You have to be willing to get out there and do your training. You have to be willing to do the work required to succeed in the marathon."

Kebede's resume is full of hard-fought marathons. When he won the bronze medal in the marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, it was in sweltering conditions.  He stalked, then passed, his teammate Deriba Merga in the tunnel under the stadium. And in his debut marathon that took place in Addis Ababa four years ago, he survived a bus accident days before the race. Taking into account all those hard efforts, Kebede maintains that New York should still be the toughest marathon of his career.

"There are a lot of strong competitors here," he says. "You have a lot of very good Kenyans like Emmanuel and Geoffrey Mutai. That, along with the difficult course are the reasons for why I think this marathon will be the hardest one for me." Flashing a quick smile, he ends the interview with some optimism. "But I think I am up for the challenge. I think I will do very well here."

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