Duncan Mackay

Haile Gebrselassie_backs_London_2017_October_10_2011October 10 - London has stolen a march on Doha, its only rival to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships, by signing-up Ethiopia's double Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie as an official ambassador of its bid.

Gebrselassie, arguably the greatest distance runner in history, is also joining the London 2017 Athletes' Commission, which is chaired by former Olympic hepthatlon champion Denise Lewis.

The appearances in Britain of Gebrselassie have always caused great excitement among the expat Ethiopian community with them travelling from across the country to support him.

"I have competed and trained in London for many years and always had great support from the public and the athletics family in the UK," said Gebrselassie, the Olympic 10,000 metres gold medallist in 1996 and 2000.

"I am planning to compete [at the Olympics] in London in 2012 and by being part of the extended bid team hope to enable future Ethiopian athletes to have the same great experiences in the Olympic Stadium in front of a London crowd in 2017."

Gebrselassie has been joined in backing the London bid by teammate Kenenisa Bekele, who succeeded him as Olympic 10,000m champion at Athens in 2004 and retained his title in Beijing four years later, and Jamaica's former world 100m record holder Asafa Powell.

"I am a big fan of London and always enjoy competing in front of fantastic passionate crowds at British athletics events," said Bekele.

"By the time 2017 arrives I hope to run the marathon, and London would provide an ideal climate and wonderful atmosphere to compete in.

"I know that London would host a very special IAAF World Championships and wish them all the best with their bid."

Powell, who won an Olympic gold medal in Beijing as part of Jamaica's 4x100m relay team, claimed he was backing London because of its multi-culturalism.

"London is such a great multi-cultural city and athletes from across the world are always made to feel welcome," he said.

"Holding the World Championships in London would be the ideal way to follow on from the Olympic Games and I know that the city would truly do them proud."

But the support of Gebrselassie is the one that really excites Ed Warner, the chairman of UK Athletics, whose confidence that London's bid will be successful has grown since last week's visit of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Evaluation Commission, including deputy general secretary Nick Davies (above second right), to the capital, where they received reassurances over the future of the track at the Olympic Stadium.

It is the second time that Gebrselassie has come out in support of London having also backed the city's successful bid to host the Olympics and Paralympics.

"Haile is one of the greatest ever athletes and has always spoken of how much he enjoys competing in London", said Warner.

"To have him backing London 2017 is a huge boost for us, but what is more essential is the insight he can provide as part of the Athletes Commission.

"We have always said our London 2017 bid would be athlete centred and with the input of incredible athletes like Haile and under Denise Lewis' leadership the Commission can ensure we deliver that commitment."

Doha, meanwhile, have so far only unveiled one major name backing their bid.

Norway's Andreas Thorkildsen, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic javelin champion, was on hand in Qatar last week to meet and greet members of the IAAF Evaluation Commission.

"I had a great experience competing in Doha and I can see that their experience in and commitment to athletics will continue to grow," he said.

"If athletics wants to set new standards for a World Championships that will take my sport to the next level then Doha is without doubt the right place."

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