"No one can touch Haile Gebrselassie if he's fit," says CBC track analyst Geoff Gowan. "The little Kenyan Charles Kamathi would have a shouting chance, too. But it doesn't look like Paul Tergat's in it, so there'll be no epic battle between him and Gebrselassie, which is a shame."
The Ethiopian Gebrselassie, world record holder in the 5,000m and 10,000m, delivered yet another disappointment to his arch-rival, the Kenyan Tergat, at the Sydney Olympics. Despite suffering from a painful injury, Gebrselassie found just enough speed to win the 10,000m to the frustration of the charging Tergat.
Now, both are moving up to the marathon, but Gebrselassie is making a bid for a final 10,000m world championship, although just how fit he is remains a huge question mark again. He has not raced in the 10,000m since Sydney and has endured chronic injuries, but his tactical shrewdness and tremendous ability to blow away the pack with his finishing speed - an awesome power that belies his diminutive five-foot-three frame - have put him in a class by himself (plus, maybe, Tergat, whose misfortune it has been to be one of the best of all time running against arguably the greatest of all time).
"Gebrselassie is in the same category with the all-time greats," says Gowan, "including Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Kip Keino and so on - and he's more versatile than any of them, except maybe Nurmi.
"He could even rewrite the books in the marathon someday - he's just so bloody talented and makes it look so easy. When he and Paul Tergat run the marathon some day, we might actually see a sub-two-hour time."
Gebrselassie's heir apparent in Ethiopia is Assefa Mezegebu, the former world junior champion who won bronze at both the 1999 world championships and Sydney Olympics. Kenya's hopes remain considerable in Tergat's absence: Charles Kamathi is incredibly talented, and he's been turning in spectacular times along with John Cheruiyot Korir and Paul Kosgei.
Canadian Jeff Schiebler is not a medal contender, but has been running well enough to potentially make the final. The Canadian record holder registered the 14th-fastest time of the year in finishing seventh in the fastest race of the year at Palo Alto, California. Interestingly, Schiebler is all but unknown in Canada, but a big star in Japan, where he races in a corporate road-racing league that enjoys the status of big-league spectator sport in Japan.