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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Despite injury, Gebrselassie to compete

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- If it was any other race, Haile Gebrselassie would not be running. But this is the Olympic 10,000, and probably the last track event of his legendary career.

So despite an Achilles tendon injury, the two-time defending Olympic champion from Ethiopia will compete on Friday.

"I was very close to pulling out," Gebrselassie said at a news conference Wednesday.

One of the greatest long-distance runners of all time, Gebrselassie, 31, is seeking to become the first individual athlete to win the same running event at three Olympics. He plans to move up to marathon for the rest of his career.

"Even if I am not doing very well, I feel I need to be there. I will try to do my best. Top three would be really great.

"If I win a medal it would be wonderful, if not, that's OK," said Gebrselassie, who broke his own world record nine times.

During the last two weeks, "I couldn't do uphill training, but it's been getting better the last three to four days. If I still have pain, I'll take painkillers for the race," said Gebrselassie.

Gebrselassie said he wanted to help Ethiopia achieve a sweep as they did last year at the World Championship in Paris, shutting out their great rivals from Kenya.

"I want to win but if I don't it's the same to me as long as an Ethiopian wins the race," Gebrselassie said. "If the same thing happens as in Paris, it would be fantastic, you can imagine."

Gebrselassie acknowledged that his injury may be a factor in determining Ethiopian tactics for the race. They would normally try to dictate the pace, keep together and box out the Kenyans.

"The problem is my left tendon. In Sydney four years ago, it was the right one and before that in Atlanta [in 1996] it was also the left," he said.

Those injuries were not enough to stop Gebrselassie the last two Olympics. But his young countryman Kenenisa Bekele probably will.

Bekele, 22, took away his mentor's world title last year. Three months ago, he pulverized Gebrselassie's 5,000 and 10,000 world records with respective marks of 12:37.35 and 26:20.31, set nine days apart.

"He has a very good kick, the same I used to have, but my kick is better now than last year," Gebrselassie said. "He's in good shape."

"He is not like a son, but we are friends, we have the same manager and the same coach and we practice together," Gebrselassie said.

Gebrselassie said he was considering an operation on the left tendon, just like he had on the right one after the Sydney Games.

If it wasn't the Olympics, would he run Friday?

"Absolutely not," Gebrselassie said.

"It's only every four years. And it could be the last track event of my career."