Sleepless Bekele ready for New York Marathon debut

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Ethiopian long-distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele makes his New York Marathon debut on Sunday (AFP/Bob MARTIN)
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Ethiopian long-distance running legend Kenenisa Bekele tackles the New York Marathon for the first time on Sunday, targeting victory as the iconic race returns after a two-year pandemic-forced absence.

The 39-year-old Bekele starts as one of the favourites for the 26.2-mile run through the Big Apple, hoping to claim the third major marathon victory of his career after wins in Berlin in 2016 and 2019.

The three-time Olympic gold medalist arrives in New York in form just six weeks after clocking 2hr 6min 47sec in the Berlin Marathon, where he finished in third place, just over a second behind winner Guye Adola.

Bekele is likely to face a stern challenge from Somalia-born Dutch runner Abdi Nageeye, the marathon silver medalist at this year's Tokyo Olympics, as well as Kenya's Kibiwott Kandie, the world record holder for the half-marathon.

Bekele says he plans to run a tactical race in New York, where unlike Berlin there are no pacemakers in the field, and cast doubt on the chances of him threatening the course record.

"It's difficult to say course record or not," Bekele said. "It's my first time on the New York course so I don't know how it is.

"There are no pacemakers, so that makes it tough. I will focus on a tactical race. I will see how others react during the race and we will see."

Despite an impressive time in Berlin, Bekele says his performance in Germany was impacted by a fitful night's sleep on the eve of the race.

"That made me very tired. I couldn't sleep one hour and that made me very tired," Bekele said.

It is a problem that has perplexed Bekele throughout his career, and has left him mulling the use of sleeping pills.

"Not only Berlin -- Dubai, London. Many times, the day before I had the same thing. Dubai, London," he said. "It affected my result.

"I don't know why it happens. I don't know if I was nervous, or whether I was over-prepared mentally. I never tried sleeping pill before but maybe I have to try to control that."

In the women's race, Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Peres Jepchirchir will attempt to complete a memorable double with victory in New York.

The 28-year-old Kenyan would be the first reigning Olympic marathon champion to win the New York Marathon.

"The course is not easy, but I will try my best," Jepchirchir said.

"There are some strong ladies here. I'm going to go and try my best to see how I am going to go to run. But it's not easy."

The biggest threat to Jepchirchir's hopes could come from Ethiopian duo Ruti Aga, a third place finisher in New York in 2019, and Ababel Yeshaneh, who posted a second place finish at the 2019 Chicago Marathon.