Athletics: Ethiopians make London exit

The London Marathon yesterday lost two of its most illustrious contenders as Haile Gebrselassie and his Ethiopian compatriot Gezahegne Abera announced they were unfit for the race on Sunday week.

The London Marathon yesterday lost two of its most illustrious contenders as Haile Gebrselassie and his Ethiopian compatriot Gezahegne Abera announced they were unfit for the race on Sunday week.

Speaking in London last month, Gebrselassie - who ended his track career after finishing fifth in last summer's Olympic 10,000 metres - was confident that he would be able to run in the capital after recovering from an Achilles tendon operation. "By the time of the London Marathon, everything will be perfect," he added.

Sadly that has proved not to be the case. Despite impressive performances in a number of half-marathons, the 32-year-old double Olympic 10,000m champion recently developed tendinitis and has now withdrawn as a precaution.

"I am really sorry to take this decision," said Gebrselassie, who finished third on his international marathon debut in London three years ago. "Firstly because I was really keen on running a marathon again, and secondly because I am missing the opportunity of running in the greatest marathon field ever assembled in a city marathon. As I have a three-year contract with London I hope to come in 2006 to achieve what I was planning for this year's race."

Had he been fit, those plans may have entailed a challenge to the world record of 2hr 4min 55sec held by his perennial rival Paul Tergat, one of three Kenyans who may well profit from the absence of their Ethiopian opponents - the others are Sammy Korir, who finished just a second behind him on his world record run in Berlin, and Evans Rutto, the world's fastest debutant.

Abera, the 2000 Olympic champion and 2003 London winner, has also withdrawn because of tendon problems, having had surgery last autumn. "I have recovered from my surgery and have been training well," Abera said. "But at this moment I am not at the level it takes to compete in London."

Italy's Olympic champion, Stefano Baldini, and Tergat are the main attractions, along with South Africa's Hendrik Ramaala, who won the New York Marathon in 2004, and the double London winner Abdelkader el Mouaziz from Morocco.

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