Olympics- Athletics-Haile sprints to gold in dramatic 10,000m
Reuters- Last updated: 25 Sep 2000 13:21 GMT (Reuters)
By Patrick Vignal
SYDNEY, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Haile Gebrselassie outsprinted Kenya's Paul Tergat on Monday to retain his 10,000 metres Olympic title by the slimmest of margins in a breathtaking conclusion to the day's eventful programme.
Weakened by a foot injury, the diminutive Ethiopian confirmed his status as one of the greatest distance runners of all time by taking up a challenge from multiple cross-country champion Tergat in the final straight to beat him by nine hundredths of a second.
Their elbows clashed as the two fought side by side to roars of appreciation from the 113,000 crowd packing Stadium Australia on a cool and windy night.
Tergat left his inside lane to try to slow down Gebrselassie, but the champion refused to be distracted.
He crossed the line in 27 minutes 18.20 seconds, with Tergat timed at 27:18.29. Ethiopia's Assefa Mezgebu, who could only watch the champions' duel from a distance, took bronze in 27:19.75.
Before the gripping final stages, the 10,000 had been a tactical race with many changes of pace.
Aloys Nizigama of Burundi did the early pace-setting work before handing over the duties to Kenya's Patrick Ivuti, who led for most of the event and eventually came fourth.
Gebrselassie, who had a big smile on his face at the start and did not seem a bit worried, stayed safely in second or third position until Tergat showed up at the front for the first time with seven laps remaining.
The veteran Kenyan and the defending champion swapped the lead until their spectacular showdown.
Gebrselasie, a four-times world champion, has not lost a 10,000 metres race since 1993 and was the hot favourite.
But there were doubts about his physical shape after he missed the entire indoor season with a sore Achilles tendon and entered only a few races in the warm-up to the Olympics.
As he completed his preparation, he was hampered by a foot injury to the extent that he considered pulling out.
But on the day the 27-year-old, who honed his skills by running 10 kilometres to school and then back every day, lived up to his awesome reputation.
"The reason why I could not run so fast was because I have an injury," he said, apologising for registering an ordinary time according to his own, high standards.
"For a time I didn't know whether I would come here. At the last moment I decided to try and now I'm very happy."
The 31-year-old Tergat, who had finished runner-up to Gebrselassie at last year's world championships, admitted he was exhausted.
"It was very, very hard," said the Kenyan, who has chased Gebrselassie for years. I'm satisfied with the silver because I gave my very best."
After realising he had lost, Tergat immediately went to congratulate Gebrselassie.
"He's a really good guy," he said of his arch-rival.
Asked if he would be having nightmares of the unstoppable Ethiopian, he said: "No. I'm an athlete and he's also a human being. No nightmares."
The two might meet again soon.
"I believe this was my last race on the track," Tergat said. "Now I will run marathons."
The bad news for the Kenyan is that Gebrselassie has exactly the same plan.