Kenyans are once again tipped for podium finishes at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS) tomorrow but all eyes will be on a lithe Ethiopian with an infectious smile and an indomitable spirit.
The Emperor of Long Distance himself, Haile Gebrselassie, will be showcasing his sprightly feet in the 10km race, in which he has won four world titles and two Olympic golds.
Coupled with a host of past winners in the 42.195km main event, officials have declared this year's field as the strongest in the race's 32-year history.
Chris Robb, chief executive of race organisers Spectrum Worldwide, said: "It's already a great marathon field but to have Haile, who is probably the best distance runner of his era, for his first race in South-east Asia is amazing.
"We are all excited to see the legend in action."
Gebrselassie, 41, still holds two world records in the 20,000m and the one-hour (the distance run in exactly an hour).
Yesterday, he proved himself a stellar performer off the track too, holding court at a press conference at Orchard Gateway.
"Do you need a necklace?" he teased when the moderator mentioned his latest venture into gold mining.
Hit by injuries in recent years, Gebrselassie has developed into a keen businessman, employing a staff of 1,500 at his hotel, car dealership and even a coffee farm in his homeland.
"I will return to Singapore to open a few coffeeshops - once you drink Ethiopian coffee, you won't want anything else," the four-time Berlin Marathon winner said with a toothy grin.
While he just wants to "enjoy" his 10km run and declined to set a target, he backed the Kenyans - led by SCMS record-holder Luke Kibet - to cross the finish line first at the Padang.
The country's athletes have won the men's category since 2002 while the women were victorious in the past four years.
"We are all in good form. On the day itself, each of us will be very motivated to win and keep the Kenyan record going," said Kenneth Mburu Mungara, the 2010 winner who has also won three Toronto Marathon titles.
Around 53,000 runners are expected to take part this year.
Amid concerns about congestion, the 12,000 participants in the half-marathon will no longer share the same route with those in the 10km race and marathon.
Gebrselassie has the same advice for first-time participants, weekend warriors and elite runners: "Don't eat proteins before the race, stay hydrated and, most importantly, enjoy yourself and try to make new friends."
Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore
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ALL PREPARED TO GO THE EXTRA MILE
This article was first published on Dec 6, 2014.
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