Sometimes races don’t go as planned. For Haile Gebrselassie, the world’s most decorated distance runner, yesterday’s NYC Half-Marathon certainly didn’t. He’d won nine of 10 career half-marathons and never lost on American soil—until yesterday.
It seemed like the perfect conditions for running a half—clear sunny skies, a crisp 53 degrees and a slight breeze. Another win for Gebrselassie—and maybe even a 27th world record—seemed like a forgone conclusion. Indeed, he was in first place after 8 miles, when he had an asthma attack, possibly exacerbated by a cold, and eventually dropped out of the race.
“My asthma kicked in from dust in the road,” Gebrselassie said in a statement released by New York Road Runners, who conducted the race. “What are you going to do? It happens.”
Gebrselassie, 36, is just one of many elite runners who struggle with asthma; women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe and American marathon legend Alberto Salazar do as well.
“I am disappointed,” Gebrselassie wrote on his Twitter account earlier today. “I was running well yesterday, altough I was travelling to New York with a cold and a light flu.”
“I have had these pulmonary problems before, so now it is time to seek some serious medical advice to solve this problem,” Gebrselassie tweeted. “It is a small problem, but can destroy my race completely like yesterday unfortunately.”
Peter Kamais, 33, of Kenya won the men’s race, and Mara Yamauchi of Britain edged out American favorite Deena Kastor on the women’s side. It was Kamais’ first half-marathon win.
Indeed, as I watched the race from the West Side Highway and 24th Street in Manhattan—before the 11-mile mark—I was shocked not to see Gebrselassie out front. I was with a group of friends who are all runners, and when the lead car came by, we strained our eyes to see who would appear first. We had all come to see Gebrselassie in one of his rare American appearances. We’d all been talking about what a privilege it would be see the world’s greatest distance runner in action.
“It’s not Haile!” someone shouted.
From almost any distance, we’d know his shape and form.
Kamais was far ahead of the chase pack, and we waited to see if Gebrselassie was possibly in second or in third. Nope. When we didn’t see him then, there was only one logical conclusion—he’d dropped out. And we were right.
After stopping for about a minute during the initial asthma attack, Gebrselassie resumed the race in fifth place. But he dropped out less than a mile later, retreating to a medical tent.
Kamais won, but he was unable to best the course record—set by Gebrselassie in 2007. Gebrselassie also owns the marathon world record—2:03:59.
After the elite runners passed, I stayed to cheer on friends and teammates who were also racing. There were 11,494 finishers in all. It’s just a shame that Gebrselassie wasn’t one of them
Eds. note: The spelling altough is in Gebrselassie’s original tweet.