Dubai : A decade after fleeing Ethiopia, Britain's current fastest marathon man will come face-to-face again with Haile Gebrselassie when the 2010 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon hits the streets of Dubai on January 22.
Tomas Abyu may have swapped the altitude and heat of Ethiopia for the lowlands and rain of Manchester, but the British runner retains all the characteristics of Ethiopian runners and is counting the days until he once again meets the sporting legend in the world's richest marathon.
Greatest distance runner
Abyu and Gebrselassie, arguably the world's greatest ever distance runner, were born just 25 miles apart and in 2007 Abyu returned to his native country to train with the little emperor. "Haile is my hero," says the 31 year-old who will hope to continue to make the progress required to join the ranks of the world's best and inspire an adopted nation not renowned for producing male marathon champions.
A time of 2h:10m:37s in a race in Dublin in 2007 was the fastest posted by a British runner in a decade and he is determined to use the Dubai event as a springboard into the Great Britain team for the 2010 European Championships.
"It would be so big for me to represent the country," he smiled.
For the adopted Mancunian — he is a big fan of Manchester United and former star Cristiano Ronaldo — it would be a remarkable turnaround just ten years after escaping his native Ethiopia where his father was killed in a civil war. "It was the continuation of 30 years of fighting," said Abyu, who was living in the central Ethiopian town of Arsi at the time. "My father was a farmer — an innocent person — when he was killed. As the government was arresting people at the time I had no choice but to escape the country."
After being moved around the country by road, Abyu was put on a ship and arrived in the UK in 1999. In April 2000, he was granted full asylum and six years ago, he received British citizenship.
His first ever appearance at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon will give him a chance to once again run alongside Gebrselassie just months after finishing in 13th place behind the legend in Berlin.
"We are delighted to provide an opportunity for Tomas to try and get into the Great Britain team for the European Championship," added Peter Connerton, Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon Event Director.
"With a flat straight course and ideal weather conditions, the Dubai route may prove ideal for him."