Gebreselassie Sets World 25K Record, Or Does He?

Here's how a runner can set a record for 25km in a 20km race...

Posted: 16 March 2006
by Ken Young

At the Alphen (NED) 20K held on 12 Mar 2006, Haile Gebreselassie ran a 1:11:37 for 25km, well under the previously fastest reported time of 1:12:45 set by Paul Kosgei (KEN) at the Berlin (GER) 25km on 09 May 2004.

How can a runner set a record for 25km in a 20km race? The 25km "race" was started prior to the start of the 20km race with a small group of pacemakers plus Gebreselassie covering the additional 5km over a two loop course before joining the 20km course.

A narrow passage way allowed Gebreselassie to pass by the mass of runners awaiting the start of the 20km race. As Gebreselassie passed the start line for the 20km race, the 20km race was started. i.e., at the 5km mark, Gebreselassie acquired a new set of pacemakers.

Gebreselassie was paced. There is no question of that. In this case, there were TWO sets of pacemakers. The first set was entered in the same competition as Gebreselassie and started at the same time.

However, the second set of pacemakers was NOT entered in the same competition as Gebreselassie and did NOT start at the same time. The bottom line is that Gebreselassie was paced by runners NOT entered in the same competition as Gebreselassie.

This might seem a minor issue, insufficient to invalidate the mark as a record. However, it is both a very important issue and also is a very dangerous precedent.

This strategy, if accepted, could be extended to provide a half-marathon race in a marathon that would utilize the last half of the marathon course AND would be started just as the lead pack passed the starting line for the half marathon, thereby providing fresh pacemakers for the second half of a marathon.

This strategy alters entirely the basis upon which pacemakers operate in a race. A pacemaker is normally entered in the race and starts at the start. He/she is also a potential competitor, regardless of any proclamation that he/she is simply a pacemaker. Such pacemakers have gone on to win the competition that they were supposed to merely pace.

A pacemaker under this new strategy cannot win the competition since they did not start at the start line for the competition, i.e., Salim Kipsang (KEN) was NOT a competitor in the 25km since he did not start at the start of the 25km and did not run the full 25km course. And yet, in this case, he clearly paced Gebreselassie for part of the 25km race. How far he paced Gebreselassie is irrelevant, any illegal aid invalidates a potential record performance.

The only conclusion is that the 25km race violates the rule on bona fide competition and marks from this "race" cannot not be recognized as legitimate for world record purposes.

this article is extracted from edition 1106 of the Analytical Distance Runner, the email newsletter of the Association of Road Racing Statisticians

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Discuss this article

Posted: 16/03/2006 at 20:55

I think this should be recorded as an unofficial record.The guy did what he did.Fact.In the sport of boxing if fighter A knocks out fighter B and then fighter A is positive at a drugs test then the result is changed to a "no contest".However you try telling fighter B that he wasnt knocked out.
An unofficial result doesnt mean it wasn't done.What do you think?
Posted: 16/03/2006 at 21:14

it's mucking around with the rules. i don't think it's any more valid than 'training' performances.
Posted: 16/03/2006 at 22:34

there's an association of road racing statisticians?
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 08:38

Playing devil's advocate........ is this any different to using a pacemaker to pace a fast first half then the pacemaker dropping out?
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 11:29

You'd think they'd check the rules/get the all-clear from the powers that be before doing it.

Not sure whether they did or not.
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 12:07

I suppose they have to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise people will start being paced in all sorts of ways, behind a bike/scooter/motorbike/car.
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 12:17

Blatantly cheating in spirit, but I assume they checked that they could get it through technically.

As a huge fan of Haile (who isn't?), I'm very disappointed.
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 12:29

I'm never going to break any records, but if I did I'd like to break them in a proper racing environment, as Haile did on the track
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 12:39

I'm not a very experienced runner myself but if you have to run on a treadmill for a minimum of 40 mins why not split that into 2 runs during the day say one in the morning and one at night of 20mins each and run them faster than your normal pace?
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 13:13

oops sorry, I think I posted this in the wrong thread!

having a blonde moment!!
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 13:14

Maybe there's room for two sets of records. One set for "normal" races with any pacemakers participating in the race and one set for races that can involve any sort of pacemaking strategy. There are already two sets of women's marathon records, one for women only races and one for races with male pacemakers.
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 13:29

If pacers don't start at the start its cheating.
I think watches should be banned.

what about multilap events? A pacer could just sit at the start and wait for his/her turn to pace a lap. Is there a 'fair play' rule in athletics?
Posted: 17/03/2006 at 14:58

Why didn't he just use a Garmin?

Posted: 17/03/2006 at 15:02

If this record is not valid, then nor should Roger Bannister's sub-four minute mile be recognised as the first. Bannister had pace makers for each of the first three of four laps. One of the pacers paced both the first and third lap, by not running the second. How is that any more legitimate than what Gebrisalasie did?
Posted: 21/03/2006 at 14:43

Not true. Bannister was paced by Brasher and Chataway. Brasher took it out before being overtaken by Chataway who was then overtaken by Bannister.

Bannister had previously used a lapped runner as a pacemaker and this was banned at that stage. You are no longer meant to use lapped runners for pacing.
Posted: 21/03/2006 at 14:56

I totally forgot about this thread

I didn't quite know what to make of it. But an interesting range of opinions, good point Rory

MtB good point in multi-lap races interesting, did you see the womans triathlon i think it was on the cycling stage a lapped triathelete dropped back from the pack, i don't much about triathlon rules but it seemed she might be disqualified if she didn't (gaining an unfair advantage)
Posted: 21/03/2006 at 15:01

This calls in to question my marathon PB at cardiff as the half goes off about half an hour before the main race and you start catching the runners in both the first and second laps. Mind you they are all slow and were more of a hinderance than a help acting as a sort of slalom section on the narrower parts!
Posted: 24/03/2006 at 15:46

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