It’s been a long wait for both Haile Gebrselassie and longtime followers of the sport of distance running.

So when the 37-year-old Ethiopian, broadly viewed as the best the discipline has ever produced, makes his American debut this Sunday at the New York City Marathon, the intrigue and excitement of what is one of this country’s most captivating annual events will be magnified.

Gebrselassie’s resume is unmatched. He is a two-time Olympic 10,000 meter gold medal winner and has captured four world titles at that distance. In addition, the lithe African has won the last three Dubai Marathons and was the Berlin champion four straight years from 2006 to 2009.

It was in Berlin in 2008 that Gebrselassie became the only runner in history to traverse the 26.2-mile marathon in under 2 hours and four minutes (2:03:59), breaking his own world record (2:04:26) set the previous year in Berlin.

Despite Gebrselassie’s experience and superiority, New York will be arguably his biggest stage and perhaps most arduous challenge. Although two-time NYC Marathon champion Martin Lel and fellow Kenyan, four-time Boston Marathon title holder Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, are unable to compete due to injuries, Gebrselassie will still face a rigorous field.

Defending champion Meb Keflezighi, a native of Eritrea and a U.S. citizen since 1998, and two-time New York victor Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil are highly capable of spoiling Gebrselassie’s inaugural appearance.

On the women’s side, three-time New York first place finisher Paula Radcliffe will be home with her newborn baby boy but defending New York champion Deratu Tulu of Ethiopia, Kenya’s Mary Keitany and NYC Half-Marathon champion Mara Yamauchi of Great Britain will head a strong contingent.