Tergat to make his marathon debut in London

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The Independent Online

Paul Tergat, beaten by Haile Gebrselassie over 10,000m in Sydney in the closest ever finish to an Olympic Games distance race, will beat his perennial rival to the post next year. The 31-year-old Kenyan who has given up track racing after a career which has earned him two Olympic silver medals, will make his long-anticipated move up to the marathon distance when he runs in the London event on 22 April.

Paul Tergat, beaten by Haile Gebrselassie over 10,000m in Sydney in the closest ever finish to an Olympic Games distance race, will beat his perennial rival to the post next year. The 31-year-old Kenyan who has given up track racing after a career which has earned him two Olympic silver medals, will make his long-anticipated move up to the marathon distance when he runs in the London event on 22 April.

Tergat, who on Sunday became the first man to retain the world half-marathon title, was in London yesterday to confirm that he has chosen to make his debut over 26 miles in the capital against a field that will include the world's fastest marathon runner, Khalid Khannouchi, who has now switched his nationality from Morocco to the Unites States.

Tergat is probably best known for his unprecedented record of five consecutive wins in the World Cross Country Championships between 1995 and 1999, but in the last two years he has announced his long-term intentions in the area of road racing.

Although he learned this week that the 59min 06sec he ran in Lisbon eight months ago has been discounted as a world half-marathon record because the course was downhill, he still holds the best official time of 59.17, which he set in Stramilano two years ago. Those performances have given indication, if any were needed, that this is a man who can take the marathon event to new levels.

Whether Gebrselassie, who is planning to move up to the event in the year 2002, can maintain his domination over the longer distance is a question that will be answered soon enough. But for now, the road awaits one of Kenya's finest runners.

"Paul's decision to make his marathon debut in the spring is one all big city marathons have been waiting for," said Dave Bedford, the race director of the Flora London Marathon. "He is one of the most accomplished distance runners around at the moment and his successes to date on the country, track and road point towards huge potential as a marathoner. We are delighted he has chosen London for his big move.

"I believe we will witness the fastest men's debut marathon ever in next year's race, and course and world records could well happen too - it should be very exciting."

Tergat will seek to add a sixth world cross country title to his record next spring, as well as running another half-marathon in Lisbon. But he made it clear that these events would serve as preparation for his date in London. "My first marathon is the most important priority," he said yesterday. "I have reached the stage in my career when I need a new challenge."

Although the full distance represents unknown territory for Tergat, the London course record of 2.06:36 set by Antonio Pinto of Portugal last year will clearly be within his sights.

But as he strives to make an impact in the new event, he will be mindful of the advice given to him by his Kenyan training partner Moses Tanui, now a marathon veteran. "Moses told me: 'When you are feeling good, then think twice'," Tergat said with a grin.

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