Paul Tergat at the 1999 IAAF World Cross Country Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright

Paul Tergat uses World Half Marathon as testbed for Sydney Olympics Marathon

Very probably, the eighth edition of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, scheduled for the morning of Sunday 3 October (9:45 am), in the historical centre of Palermo, will mark a major turning point in the athletics career of Kenya’s Paul Tergat.

The man who many consider to be the greatest cross country runner of all times – he has won five consecutive world cross country titles – has also marked some great results on the track, including a 10,000m world record of 26:27.85 in 1997, but he has never managed to win gold at either the Olympic Games or the World Championships.

For Tergat has always had to contend with a formidable adversary: Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie, who has barred him the way to the Olympic 10,000m title in 1996 and the World Championships title over the same distance in 1995, 1997 and, most recently, in Seville this year.

Accordingly, Paul Tergat has decided that the time has come to change races – to avoid having once again in Sydney to cross swords with Gebrselassie – and to move up to the marathon. But this decision is not one to be taken lightly. It means an in-depth study of the athlete’s physiology and muscular make-up, because it does not necessarily follow that a great ten thousand metre runner can become a great marathon runner.

Hence the importance of the race over 21,097 metres in Palermo. Paul Tergat already owns the world best performance for the distance with a clocking of 59:17 and herte he will be facing some serious rivals: his countrymen Paul Koech, the defending Champion and Shem Kororia, who won the 1995 edition, in addition to the South African athletes Hendrick Ramaala and Gert Thys, who has run the second-fastest time ever in the marathon with a time of 2:06:33 and Italy’s Giacomo Leone, winner of the New York Marathon in 1996.

Arriving in Palermo today from his training base in Sicily, Paul Tergat said that he is in great shape. Last weekend, he was the easy winner of the Peppe Greco 10 km Trophy race, in Scicli, in the province of Catania and he is now looking to add the World Half Marathon title to the World Cross Country title he secured in Belfast in March this year.

Should he be successful in his challenge, the time will come for him to take the definitive decision: whether, at thirty years of age, to base his training schedule for 2000 on the marathon and steal the pace on Haile Gebrselassie, who has already said that he too will be moving up to the marathon after Sydney.

The 8th IAAF World Half Marathon Championships is going to be interesting as an insight to the future of the athletics movement, and not just for the likely tough contest between the apparently indefatigable Kenyan Tegla Loroupe, the ex-Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu from Ethiopia, South Africa’s Elana Meyer, Romania’s Cristina Pomacu, Morocco’s Asmae Laghzaoui and Japan’s Mizuki Noguchi.

The line-up is of the highest standard and particularly significant for the number of countries entered: fifty-two – proof of the international interest in this competition. Proof which is backed up by the number of television networks that have already announced their intention of broadcasting live the images that will be supplied by host broadcaster RAI, commencing at 9:35 am Sunday (starting time of the women’s race) and running through till the end of the competition.

Tomorrow, at midday, IAAF President Dr Primo Nebiolo will hold a presentation press conference in the "Sala degli Specchi" of the Villa Niscemi. The conference will also be attended by the Mayor of Palermo, Hon. Professor Leoluca Orlando and the President of the Italian Federation, Gianni Gola.