By David Monti, Race Results Weekly
LONDON (15-Apr) -- He only stands 158cm (5'-2") tall and weighs just 50kg (110 lbs), but Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede is the Big Man at Sunday's Virgin London Marathon.
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April 25, 2010: After defending champion Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya drops out, Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia wins the men's race at the Virgin London Marathon.
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Just 24 years-old, he already has a marathon résumé worthy of a man with ten years of racing under his belt: world championships and Olympic bronze medals; a personal best time of 2:05:18; and victories at the Paris, Fukuoka, and London Marathons.
At yesterday's press conference here, a confident Kebede proclaimed that he was capable of running at world record pace, if necessary. One athlete manager said today that Kebede had asked the organizers for a blistering 62-minute first half (the race hit halfway in 63:06 last year).
"Yes, it's possible," he said of taking a run at Haile Gebrselassie's 2:03:59 world record. "If the weather is nice you can run 2:04 or 2:03." He then seemed to hedge a bit, adding: "Yeah, I think some day I will run the world record."
Kebede's rise in marathon running has been astonishing. He won the little-watched Addis Ababa Marathon at high altitude in 2007 in 2:15:53, before making his international debut in Amsterdam later that year where he finished 8th in 2:08:16. He didn't gain wide notice until 2008 when he won Paris in 2:06:40, then backed that up with a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics, and a victory at Fukuoka in 2:06:10, then the fastest time ever run in Japan. His 2009 season was just as good, taking second at London, the bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships, and yet another victory at Fukuoka, lowering his Japanese all-comer record to 2:05:18, which still stands as his personal best.
According to his manager, Valentijn Trouw of Global Sports Communications, Kebede has no wife or girlfriend, and lives in a house with his five sisters in Addis Ababa. He has been able to underwrite the education expenses for all of his sisters with his marathon winnings, and also supports his parents. His prize money and publicly-reported time bonuses for 2010 totaled $205,000, a figure which was surely tripled when appearance fees, private bonuses, and shoe company bonuses were added on.
"Before, I had nobody, nothing," Kebede said in English shaking his head. "I changed my parents' lives. I changed my life big, not small."
At Sunday's race, Kebede will face one of the toughest fields of his career. Although reigning World Marathon Majors and Olympic champion Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya isn't in the field, it is nonetheless the Kenyans who are most likely to beat him. His chief rival looks to be the Track & Field News #1-ranked marathoner of 2010, Patrick Makau, who has a 2:04:48 personal best and who both the Rotterdam and Berlin Marathons last year. James Kwambai (2:04:27 PB), Abel Kirui (2:05:04), Emmanuel Mutai (2:06:15) and three-time London champion Martin Lel (2:05:15) will also be out for victory.
Kebede didn't seem fazed by such a loaded field. "I am always relaxed," he said.