BERLIN -- Less than 10 minutes after
breaking the world marathon record on Sunday, Ethiopia's Haile
Gebrselassie was handed a cell phone -- it was Paul Tergat
calling from Kenya to offer his congratulations.
"I'm sorry," Gebrselassie told his great rival and long-time
friend after winning the Berlin marathon in two hours, four
minutes and 26 seconds, shattering by 29 seconds Tergat's record set
on the same course in 2003.
Tergat would have none of it, telling Gebrselassie he was
delighted for him.
"I am sorry -- this record belonged to Paul Tergat,"
Gebrselassie told a news conference when asked about the phone
call. "Paul is my friend."
Gebrselassie tried to tell Tergat he thought he had better
weather conditions this year compared to 2003, when it was
sunnier and warmer, although there was less wind. But Tergat
responded that records were meant to be broken.
"I really wanted to do this record but I was a little bit
worried about it, worried about attacking my friend's record,"
said Gebrselassie, 34, who fell 61 seconds short a year ago in
Berlin in his first attempt to break Tergat's mark of 2:04.55.
"I think Paul understands that. I talked to him and said
'Hi, Paul, I'm sorry.' I said 'You can come here and try to get
it back again next year'."
Gebrselassie, the best distance runner of his era, is one of
only three men to win consecutive Olympic 10,000 meter titles,
the second at the 2000 Sydney Games providing an indelible image
when he just held off the frenzied challenge from Tergat.
Gebrselassie has now held records at distances ranging from
3,000 meters to the marathon. He set numerous world records and won four successive world titles over 10,000 meters before turning to road racing.
"Sure, there's no question about that," Gebrselassie said
when asked if the elusive marathon world record was the most
important. "It's something special. I was dreaming of it for
many years. It's my record now. I'm so happy."
On Sunday he confidently attacked the flat, fast course
under ideal marathon weather conditions and had split times that
were consistently a half minute faster than Tergat for almost
the entire race.
It was the sixth time a marathon world record was set in Berlin,
where Tergat ran to the previous record in 2003.
Gebrselassie admitted he had been a bit rattled by heavy
rain and strong winds in Berlin earlier in the week.
"I lost some confidence when I first arrived -- you know,
the weather," he said. "Yesterday, I thought 'what's going on
here in Berlin?' But they kept telling me the weather forecast
was 'no rain'. How do you believe that?"
The weather forecast turned out to be accurate. The rain
stopped before the race, there was only a little wind and skies
remained overcast until late in the race.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.