London

The world record in London is possible, says Kebede

Olympic bronze medallist Tsegaye Kebede will target the world record when he defends his Virgin London Marathon title on Sunday.

The Ethiopian dominated the race 12 months ago, powering away from his rivals over the last six rainy miles to win in 2 hours 5 minutes 19 seconds, just one second outside his lifetime best. He promptly announced that he would have clocked 2:04 in kinder conditions, inside the London course record.

Now he's back with an even quicker time in his sights - Haile Gebrselassie's world record of 2:03:59.

"I said it's possible to run 2:04," said the super confident Kebede today. "If the weather is nice it's possible to run 2:04 here, or even 2:03. If the body is healthy, and the weather good, I think on Sunday I will run the world record.

"I think will improve my time from last year and, yes, even a world record is possible," he confirmed.

Kebede became the first non-Kenyan for seven years to claim the London Marathon crown last year, the first since another Ethiopian, Gezahegne Abera, won in 2003. It's a feat even his heralded compatriot Gebrselassie couldn't manage on his three appearances over the London course.

Now the smiling Kebede is intent on pushing "the Emperor" of distance running off the top of the world all-time lists. It would be quite an achievement for the London course has yielded only one men's world record in all 30 editions of the race. That was back in 2002 when Khalid Khannouchi ran 2:05:38, leaving the marathon debutant Gebrselassie in his wake.

Gebrselassie was third that day but has since gone to record the two quickest times in history. Kebede lies 13th on the all-time list and despite picking up two global bronze medals, has a best one minute 19 seconds slower than Gebrselassie's world leading mark.

Nevertheless, the laid-back 24-year-old is remarkably relaxed about hitting his historic target on Sunday. "I am always relaxed," he said. "You have to be relaxed to do this. If you are confident you have the power to win, it's not good to think only about the competition all the time, you can easily make yourself tense. But I know I will have no problem sleeping this week."

That may not be the case for Abel Kirui, the Kenyan world champion who is likely to be one of Kebede's leading challengers. Kirui admitted today that he still thinks about the mistakes he made last year when he ran shoulder to shoulder with Kebede until the final five miles before running out of steam.

Kirui faded over the closing stages and crossed the line fifth, three minutes outside his own best time.

"My mistake last year was to push with Kebede," said Kirui. "The day before the race we were challenging each other about who was going to win. We were mocking each other. So in the race, when the two of us were together, I thought, �I have to beat him'. But it was too much for me.

"This time I will control myself so I can finish better. Of course, I hope to win, so I am not going to worry about the world record. If I am in a position to do well, if my body feels good and the weather is ok, then there is no obstacle to doing it here."

Kirui's personal best currently stands at 2:05:04, set when he finished third in Rotterdam in 2009, a time that makes him ninth quickest in marathon history. The 28-year-old also ran brilliantly to win the world title in 2009, but he has never won a major city race having finished second in Berlin in 2007 and ninth in New York last November.

"Of course, I am praying very hard that I can win here because to win a big race before the end of this year is my target," said Kirui. "Then I want to come back here for the Olympics because I believe something good is going to happen for me in London."

One of the athletes to benefit from Kirui's "mistake" last year was Jaouad Gharib, the ever-green Moroccan who won the World Championship marathon in 2003 and 2005. While Kirui paid for his rash approach, Gharib used all his experience in the latter stages to come through for third.

It was the fourth time he has claimed a spot on the podium in six attempts, but Gharib has never won in London, a fact he aims to put right in 2011.

"My goal is to win the race, as always," said the 38-year-old. "That's what I have been training for. I never think about my age, whether I am 28 or 40, or whatever. When I train, I train like a 24 or 25-year-old.

"In fact, in the last few years my training has got better. I have had to change my methods a bit to suit my body but I'm quite happy and feel quite comfortable with it.

"My only secret is my motivation. Motivation is what drives me. I mean business."

With Kebede driving for the world record on Sunday, and a line-up to match any assembled for a single marathon, Gharib will need all the motivation he can muster to finally win the biggest city race in the world.