- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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NEW YORK -- Haile Gebrselassie may hold the world record in the marathon, but he can already imagine someone asking about his career when his legs have grown tired, when he no longer sees a morning run as something more necessary than a daily meal.
Gebrselassie imagines he is asked if he won the New York City Marathon.
"If I say no, [just] imagine," Gebrselassie said. "My career is not complete. This is really serious."
These kinds of thoughts are why, after New York Road Runner CEO Mary Wittenberg made two trips to his native Ethiopia, Gebrselassie announced Wednesday that he is running the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7. He flew in Wednesday morning and came to Randall's Island to run with 1,500 New York school children as part of national running day. That night, he was scheduled to fly back out.
Twelve hours may not be enough time to see the course as it snakes from the Verrazano Bridge through all five boroughs before the Central Park finish line, but it was just enough time to convey that Gebrselassie, 37, wants to add a victory in this city to his impressive résumé.
He set the marathon world record of 2 hours, three minutes and 59 seconds in 2008 in Berlin, a time 3 minutes faster than the current NYC record set by Tesfaye Jifar in 2001.
Gebrselassie has won 124 world-class races, but only a few in the United States. He has won world championships and Olympic gold, but now that the marathon is his forte, New York is his focus.
"I think all of New York City is going to warmly embrace Haile," Wittenberg said.
It is a coup for NYRR, an organization tasked with pulling a group of far-flung athletes together once a year for one 26.2-mile race. Many of the best athletes are unknown to the American sporting public, and NYRR puts the elite race together while simultaneously hosting 35,000 more pedestrian athletes.
Gebrselassie, a draw for the elite runners, plans to return to Ethiopia to train, watch the World Cup and to open his new hotel, a venture called Haile's Resort. It is hard to overstate the status of distance runners in Ethiopia and Kenya, and Wittenberg said there were discussions under way to possibly host those nations' 2011 Olympic marathon trials.
If not, however, Gebrselassie had advice for visitors.
"Next time you come to Ethiopia," he said, "don't forget to come to Haile's Resort."
18hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne