New York - Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie will make his first career start at the New York Marathon on Sunday, the 37-year-old former Olympic and world champion facing a star-studded field.
Gebrselassie, the 1996 and 2000 Olympic 10 000m champion, has won the Berlin Marathon four times and at Dubai the past three years.
"It has been a long dream of mine to compete in this outstanding event," said Gebrselassie. "I’m so excited about competing for the first time."
Gebrselassie, who set the world marathon record of 2:03.59 in 2008 at Berlin, says his training has gone well and that he will aim at the course record of 2:07:43 set in 2001 by countryman Tesfaye Jifar.
Two-time New York winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil, defending champion Meb Keflezighi of the United States, two-time New York runner-up Abderrahim Goumri, 2004 New York winner Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa and Kenyans Abel Kirui, James Kwambai and Emmanuel Mutai are also in the field.
"With all of us in the field I believe we might be able to make it a race which can be remembered for a long time as a historical race," Gebrselassie said.
Injuries will keep four-time Boston Marathon winner Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot and three-time London Marathon champion Martin Lel out of the Big Apple battle, both Kenyans having been expected to contend for the title. Lel has a right leg injury and Cheruiyot is battling a groin injury.
Reigning women's champion Derartu Tulu, 38, is a four-time Olympian who won 10 000m gold in 1992 and 2000. She won last year's New York title in 2:28:52 and will be a favourite to repeat.
Top rivals include Russia's Petrova, 41, who has finished second at New York in 2008 and 2009, Britain's Mara Yamauchi, Kenya's Mary Keitany and US marathon debutante Shalane Flanagan.
The race will also feature Edison Pena, one of the Chilean miners who was trapped underground for 69 days before an emotional rescue last month.
Pena was overjoyed at being greeted when he arrived on Thursday in New York by Gebrselassie.
"It was incredible," Pena said.
Pena, 34, was jogging in sweltering conditions in the mine and hopes his New York run can be inspirational.
"I have a strong desire to motivate others," he said. "This is the most important thing for me."