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November 5, 2010

Haile Gebrselassie

Paul Tergat

Mary Wittenberg


RICHARD FINN: Welcome to the last, maybe the best, but the last pre-race news conference of the ING New York City Marathon race week. Race day is on Sunday, and I think we're all looking forward to it. We obviously have a very special guest. To give you just a little idea of our special guest and our last athlete to be introduced, I'd like to direct your attention to the screens for a quick little video.
I'd like to bring up New York Road Runners president and CEO, Mary Wittenberg.
MARY WITTENBERG: Thank you, Richard. Since our press conference this morning, I want to welcome a few more special guests. Our friends from the London and Boston Marathons, the Chicago and Berlin Marathons, the Houston Marathon, the L.A. Marathon, and I apologize to anybody that I have missed. We're happy to have all of you with us.
We have had a pretty amazing week. And this is the grand finale to it all going into the weekend. I feel like we have been waiting for years for this press conference and this moment.
As much as I might like to wax poetic or try about the greatest runner that our sport has ever seen, a superman in every respect of those words. We're into special welcomes in New York City. Last year Grete Waitz welcomed and introduced Paula Radcliff. Yesterday, Haile Gebrselassie welcomed Chilean miner Edison Pena. So today who to welcome the great Haile Gebrselassie? We think no one better than our 2010, Abebe Bikila Award winner, the great Paul Tergat.
Sports have been defined by their rivalries, right? Red Sox-Yankees, Ali-Frazier, Borg-McEnroe, Palmer-Nicklaus. But what really struck me in May when I had the chance of a lifetime with Richie and Chrissy on our team, to travel with these two men on a trip that was supposed to be three hours from Wad Madani to Awassa. It took about eight hours because they had so much to talk about and to show us.
I was so struck by the incredibly special relationship these two one-time intense rivals have. They are giants, absolute giants in our sport. So it's a treat to hand the baton to you, Paul, to welcome you, to congratulate you on your award and to let you introduce Haile.
PAUL TERGAT: Thank you so much for letting me introduce Haile Gebrselassie who is making his first debut in the New York City Marathon.
I want to say it is a very honorable task to be able to introduce him to you this morning.
Haile, I don't know how to put it, he's a great man, a great athlete. We have come a long way together.
And I want to tell you, Haile, New York is one of the biggest marathons that I've ever competed in myself. Any statement I made in my career, Haile has been able to follow it up, and follow it to the letter by making every record that I made, he made it. And I'm very happy that this time he has decided, especially when I was with him in May because I want to assure you that our leadership is not only being an athlete in our sport, but it's beyond that. We are brothers, and we want to see that to promote the sport, especially the runners to go high and higher. So today I'm here especially in New York. I'm coming to receive an award maybe later tomorrow, the Abebe Bikila Award. And it is very, very, very big to me because the Abebe Bikila to me, especially when it's all about the marathon, you cannot talk about the marathon without knowing who this person is.
And the New York City Marathon, it is exciting to honor him and give him this award that is being awarding for an outstanding performance for all sports men in the marathon and across the world.
So for me, I'm truly humbled to introduce Haile and welcome him properly to this press conference.
I am telling you, Haile, it is a great race. There is no any other bigger race in the world than competing here in New York.
So I'm going to introduce him, Haile, as you all know, I don't know how to put it, because he's a man that has achieved everything. And I think what is missing is New York. And I believe that what we are going to see on Sunday probably will be very special. So Haile, welcome to New York, and for the members of the press, I'm sure maybe you have so many things you want to ask him.
RICHARD FINN: Haile, your comments, those words from your friend, Paul and being here in New York.
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: Thank you, Paul. I nearly cried when he said something. Paul and me, we've been running for how many years? Many years, huh? But Paul is still, for me, Paul is still a runner. I don't see him -- I don't know why today he's wearing this thing.
He was in Central Park this morning, I believe. Thank you, Paul. Really, if you look around as an athlete, as a runner, like what's happening right now here in New York, we have to look. Athletics are competing against other sports.
If we have no marathon like New York and others, we can compete against any kind of sport. This is a sport. Sport is a competition.
I would like to say thank you to Mary and her group for organizing such a wonderful, wonderful race. It's like for me to come here and compete it's like a World Championship or Olympic games. Look at what's happening right now.
I have no words to say about the New York Marathon. Especially when you won the race here. Congratulations, Paul, you had the chance to win the New York Marathon. But I'm waiting, you know, to win and to be a part of history. You're already a part of history in the New York Marathon. One thing I could not achieve, but you have achieved. That is really wonderful.
RICHARD FINN: Thank you. Questions.

Q. I'm curious what was the deciding factor in finally running here this year?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: I planned this for many years. If you run a marathon, how can you stop running without running New York? I had no chance the last few years to take part.
Of course I had the chance only to have the marathon, run the marathon. The last few years I was concentrating to run full-time.
This is a competition also with my age. Before I lose all my speed, I have to break the record and improve my time. The place where I choose is Berlin, and I had no chance to participate in New York, because they're very close to each other.
This year is really the right time to take part. After this maybe until I win New York, I'll be back (laughing)?

Q. Does that mean that you don't think you are able to break the world record anymore?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: You think I'm old?

Q. You said it.
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: Well, one thing I want to tell you, even if I cannot break the record, I have to tell to myself I have to break it. This is what sport is. I mean, of course my plan to put down my time. I will do it. Why not? The more you age, the more you're getting stronger. I still feel like age of 20 (smiling).

Q. Edison Pena is very excited to meet you yesterday at the airport. What was your reaction to meeting him?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: I ran like half an hour before he arrived. When I see Mary, Mary is waiting for us. She told me he's coming. Oh, God, I want to see this man, too.
Imagine these people, they were between life and death. Imagine after many days, you know, they had the chance to come out. You know, these guys they are very famous, especially this guy, you know. He's a runner. He is the one who wants to join us coming Sunday.
Imagine, who expected you to come to New York. It means, you know, he's born again. This is fantastic. I'm so happy. All the good people know that he's here, and it's wonderful.
RICHARD FINN: There was an immediate reaction by Edison on Haile, it really speaks volumes and something about Haile as not only being a worldwide champion, but an ambassador and known around the world.

Q. How have you prepared for Sunday's race mentally and physically that's been different than any other marathon that you've trained for?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: You know, New York, it's not the one you run full-time; it's the one you run to win. Of course this is a more difficult race. And for me what I like, I like a fast marathon. It doesn't matter, you know, what kind of course, but it's better when the race has to be a bit faster.
Also, coming Sunday, we all are looking at each other, waiting each other.
But I think my preparation, it depends on the race. I had the chance to go to look at, not the old, but the last four or five years. I saw what kind of race it is.
RICHARD FINN: Paul, any suggestions, advice that you will give to your friend here about how to win and run here in New York?
PAUL TERGAT: Definitely because I win here and it's still the one for him to do. Winning in New York is a very tough course. It's not like any sort of flat course. It's the beauty of it is there will be millions, millions of people will be lining along the course and he's going to enjoy it. Even if the weather is bad, I'm sure he's going to have a good race on Sunday.

Q. Last time we saw you in New York was for the half marathon and you had to drop out. And I understand you had a nose problem and you had it fixed. Can you say specifically what the problem was and what the solution was?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: Oh, I don't know the logic of that kind of thing. But since New York half marathon, I went to Holland and I had a chance to go to treat the problem. Because this problem, it is with me for many years. I think this is because I run very many years.
Nowadays it's okay.

Q. Haile, how fast a time do you think is possible on this course? And do you think that you could break the course record? If the pace in the race is slow, will you try and pick it up, or will you simply react to the pace around you?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: Maybe I can't answer your first question. But the second question is more secret. Yeah, it's possible to run a course record. If possible this year, wonderful. If not, another time we can run because look at what's happening right now. The athletes can run 2:04, 2:05 easily. Which means they're very sure to run a good time.
But coming Sunday, I don't know what I'm going to do. We'll see. Yeah, it depends, you know. I cannot predict right now because maybe the race will be fast.

Q. You're a historian of this sport and this marathon. What was the first year you can recall seeing the New York City Marathon? Is there any year that stands out? Can you talk about Paul's victory in 2005 and what you may have learned from that?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: I know about New York Marathon in 1991. I didn't see the race, but when Belayneh Densamo came to New York and he came third. That year my older brother was to run New York. I don't know what position he finished, but that was in 1981, I think, 1991 or '92. I think '91.
Then in 2005, the race between Berlin, it's amazing when I look at that race. Especially you see some of the pictures when Ramala fell down. It's an amazing picture. To run in Africa, someone wins like that, then you're my king. You are the king. It was amazing.
I mean, it never happened in this kind of race like between me and Paul in 2000?

Q. At the start of the century in 2000 you guys had the great battle in Sydney on the track. And much of the sport was focused on the track. Since that time you have both gone to marathons, both set world records. But also provide great leadership for the Kenyan athletes and the Ethiopian athletes, such now that the marathon has become a premier event. Tell us about what it means to you kind of leading the athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia to the marathon event.
PAUL TERGAT: I want to say that from this, I think it's very good that people were talking about impossible to run under 2:05. I think for me those days I did not believe that was impossible. Because those days when somebody had to run 2:06, it was incredible. Just fantastic. But you see you dip under 2:05, then you open the key to many, you motivate many young generation to come. Yes, it's possible to achieve that.
I want to assure you even with Haile has achieved to go under 2:04 probably is achievable now for many. That's why you are seeing many, many of sportsmen running 2:04, 2:04 trying to get the world record.
It's just that before then they would lay back. But I want to show you that when you open the way you are setting the path for generations to come. Many people will aspire to be good marathoners over time.
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: I comment on what he says. You know, as you know, this is a sport -- I mean, like always when it's -- what will be the next generation and after that. I mean, what you expect a marathon time after 20, 25 years or 30 years or faster. Maybe our time what I run and what Paul ran, maybe, oh, 2:04, 2:03, hey.
Maybe people think we are -- I mean what they think maybe we are now, yeah, a good marathon runner. If you tell me we're good marathon runners, Abebe Bikila, running barefoot. It's not only that. It's always improving a lot. Look at what kind of shoes, you know.
You know, we complain about the course. Please, you know, take it all uphill the last part. We're always, you know, trying to.
But I myself, we can say we are lucky because we had the chance to look at many generations, and still, you know, we're still trying to keep it up.

Q. Haile, it's been said that in Ethiopia it's not considered that a runner is truly great until he's become a marathoner and done well at the marathon even if he has Gold Medals on the track and other distances probably because of Abebe Bikila. So since you've now made that transition very successfully, do you think your success and others, do they have to move to the marathon also before they're considered truly great, or do they get to stay with track running. And if Bikila goes to the marathon, what might he do, do you think?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: Of course, again, his training. To change the style, the tactic. What I thought you remember in 2002, I moved to marathon. I told them I'm ready for that.
After my first marathon I decided to come back because I was not ready yet. And I came back after three, four years. The time when I came back, it was perfect. He is really a gifted athlete, and he can run a very good road. But he has to start from a half marathon, 15K and then -- well, he has guys that know more about what he needs.
But any track runner cannot achieve the marathon very quickly, except Paul Tergat. Paul Tergat can run the track, he was already on the road. He won many times in the half marathon. For him it was not that difficult, but for me, we need some time. Yeah, it's normal.

Q. I saw the great race between you two behind Khalid Khannouchi in 2002 in London. Haile, since then you have not had many marathons which have involved competition without pacemakers, competition for such a strong field. Have you prepared for that in any different way, and have you also prepared for the fact that also for the first time for a long time you're going to have hills on this course?
HAILE GEBRSELASSIE: We've been in Ethiopia. If you've been there, you know that the country is full of hills. For me, it's not the course, it's the tactic. It's the question of the tactics. After this and all my preparation, it's more like the New York race. Because from now to London 2012 where I have to run this kind of tactic, this kind of race.
I like because it's not of waiting each other. I like a fast race. It's good. I think that coming Sunday, it will be my big lesson.

Q. Can you describe Haile Gebrselassie as a competitor? What is it like to compete against him?
PAUL TERGAT: Yes. Very fierce competitor. If only I could compete in the marathon, I could tell you how it is. But because now I'm already past four, and 40 years of age, it's to the end. So I wish I could have had more time to compete with him.
I want to say he's a very competitive runner for many years that I've been competing with him.
MARY WITTENBERG: Thank you, everybody. The warm-up is largely complete. To finish with two lions in the sport as our special guests today is, I think, the best good luck charm we could have going into this weekend.
Tomorrow morning we will be at the U.N. with 20,000 runners where we'll be celebrating Paul Tergat, as our 2010 Abebe Bikila award winner. I hope Haile will be sleeping or not anywhere near introducing Paul. But to share with all of you that all of our planning is, knock on wood, on track. It looks like the weather will be terrific for running. Now we are dotting the I's, and crossing the T's.
Again, I just want to thank our incredible team from New York Road Runners from our technical director and the whole entire group and our chairman of the board, George Hirsch, we are really working hard and with such enthusiasm because I think we're about to see our greatest marathon ever. Thank you, gentlemen.

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