London Marathon breaks new ground with athlete blood tests

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2002

LONDON -- The London Marathon sets itself apart Sunday, and not just for its powerful field or the possibility of a world record.

It will become the first major marathon to conduct blood tests on all elite entrants.

''It's a wonderful thing,'' said long-distance star Haile Gebrselassie, who will run in his first marathon since he was 15. ''That's what I wanted. That's really important -- to find the honest athlete, the ones who do good training.''

Race director Dave Bedford said he has the support of all athletes and agents.

If an initial drug test comes back positive, Bedford said, the runner would be allowed to compete. The runner would be disqualified only if a second sample also were positive.

All prize and appearance money would be forfeited in a disqualification.

Gebrselassie probably is the greatest distance track runner ever, with 15 world records, two Olympic gold medals and four world titles at 10,000 meters.

Now the 28-year-old Ethiopian embarks on something new. He has promised to go after the marathon mark held by Moroccan-born American Khalid Khannouchi -- 2 hours, 5 minutes, 42 seconds. Khannouchi is in the field, as are a dozen of the best marathoners.

Gebrselassie intends to run the first half of the race in 1:02:30, which would put him on course to break the mark. That's a pace of 2:04:49 for the 26.2 miles.

His opponents think he won't be able to sustain the pace.

Paul Tergat of Kenya has been Gebrselassie's biggest rival on the track for years. Tergat made his marathon debut a year ago in London and finished second in what remains his personal best (2:08:15).

Tergat holds the world half-marathon mark (59:17) and has the second fastest 10,000 (26:27.85), behind Gebrselassie's world record (26:22.75).

If Gebrselassie sets the world mark, he will be the first to do it in London since 1965, when Morio Shigematsu ran 2:12:00.

In addition to Khannouchi and Tergat, there's a formidable line of runners waiting to test Gebrselassie.

There's defending champion Abdelkader El Mouaziz of Morocco (2:07:11 personal best); Tesjaye Jifar, the New York City Marathon champion (2:06:49) and one of Gebrselassie's training partners; and three-time London winner Antonio Pinto of Portugal (2:06:36).

Others in the field with personal bests under 2:08 include William Kiplagat of Kenya, Tesfaye Tola of Ethiopia, Stefano Baldini of Italy, and Steve Jones of Britain.

Sunday's race, with cool weather predicted, also offers a world-class women's field among the 32,000 runners.

Paula Radcliffe, the two-time defending half-marathon and cross-country world champion, is making her marathon debut. The Englishwoman will have to contend with defending champion Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia (2:23:57 best) and Svetlana Zakharova of Russia (2:24:04).

Also in the mix will be Kenya's Joyce Chepchumba, Japan's Reiko Tosa, Kenya's Susan Chepkemei, and Russia's Lyudmila Petrova.

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