PARIS: Haile Gebrselassie has dominated distance running for a decade to such an extent that it is still a surprise he will not be lining up as defending world champion in tomorrow's 10,000m final.
After winning four successive world titles over 25 laps, the 30-year-old Ethiopian was beaten into bronze in Edmonton two years ago.
Having taken the lead with 200 metres to go, Gebrselassie was outsprinted in the stretch as Kenyan Charles Kamathi took gold and Ethiopian Assefa Mezegebu silver.
It was his first loss at the distance since 1993, and the similar manner of his two defeats over 5,000 metres this year are sure to be a sharp reminder.
The world record holder at both 5,000 and 10,000m is determined to regain his title – but faces a serious challenge from compatriot Kenenisa Bekele, a double world cross-country champion.
“I don't think I was running bad, the only trouble is that while I was good until the last 400 to 200 metres, I then lost form in all my races,” Gebrselassie said of his defeats this year in his latest journal on the IAAF's website.
“The younger guys just finished faster. I wasn't sprinting bad, just not as good as their younger legs!”
While Gebrselassie focuses solely on the 10,000m, the versatile Bekele has also been included in Ethiopia's 5,000m squad and will attempt an audacious gold medal double.
A unique double will also be the target of Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj, who, apart from two Olympic failures, can claim to be the finest 1,500m-miler runner in history.
The 28-year-old seeks a fourth consecutive world 1,500m title, but will also bid for gold in the 5,000m, an event in which he lacks competitive experience.
While the distance races have an air of predictability, the sprints are altogether more wide open.
Maurice Greene has been crowned world 100m champion three times but the American has been troubled by injury since clocking 9.94 seconds earlier this year, while form has deserted world record holder Tim Montgomery.
Greene, never short on confidence though, believes a fourth world title is his for the taking.
“A lot of people don't think I will be able to win again, but I think I am about to shock the world,” Greene told Reuters on Wednesday. “Nothing else matters to me this season but winning the world championship.”
The form of defending world 200m champion Konstadinos Kederis, who also holds the Olympic and European titles at the distance, is harder to gauge.
The Greek has a best this year of 20.30, way down the list of best times this season.
In field events, victory in the discus for German Lars Riedel would see him equal the record for the most individual world golds.
Riedel has five world titles to his name, with American Michael Johnson and the world's greatest pole vaulter Sergey Bubka leading the way with six.
The 36-year-old has the second best throw in the world this year (69.50m) but he does not consider himself a leading contender for gold.
“I am prepared, but I am not among the favourites for the title,” he said.
Roman Sebrle, the first decathlete to score 9,000 points, seeks a first world title and the 28-year-old from the Czech Republic will start favourite to do so after injury hindered his bid in 2001. – Reuters