Gebreselassie Sets World 25K Record, Or Does He?

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