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Gebrselassie – Africa’s Sprint Emperor
Gebrselassie – Africa’s Sprint Emperor

By - Victoria Akindele

Posted - 06-08-2019

Haile Gebrselassie, a retired Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete was born on April 18, 1973, in Asella, Oromiya Region, Ethiopia, as one of ten children of his parents. As a child growing up on a farm, he used to run 10 kilometres to school every morning, and the same distance back every evening.
This led to a distinctive running posture, with his left arm crooked as if still holding his school books. He won two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 metres (10 km) and four World Championship titles in the same event. He won the Berlin Marathon four times consecutively and also had three straight wins at the Dubai Marathon. Further to this, he won four world titles indoors and was the 2001 World Half Marathon Champion.

Haile broke 61 Ethiopian national records ranging from 800 metres to the marathon, set 27 world records, and is widely regarded as the greatest distance runner in history.

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In September 2008, at the age of 35, he won the Berlin Marathon with a world record time of 2:03:59, breaking his own world record by 27 seconds. The record stood for three years. Since he was over the age of 35, that mark still stands as the Masters Age group world record in addition to his 10 km Masters Record that has not been challenged since 2008.

In 1992, Haile gained international recognition in Seoul, South Korea, when he won the 5 km and 10 km in the 1992 World Junior Championships and a silver medal in the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships held in Boston, United States.

The next year, in 1993, Haile won the first of what would in time be four sequential world championship titles in the men’s 10 km at the 1993, 1995, 1997, and 1999 World Championships.
Also in 1994, he won a bronze medal at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Later that year, he set his first world record by running a 12:56.96 in the 5 Km, breaking the existing record by two seconds.

In 1995, Haile ran the 10 km, in 26:43.53 in Hengelo, Netherlands, lowering the world record by nine seconds. That same summer, in Zürich, Switzerland, Haile ran the 5 km in 12:44.39, taking 10.91 seconds off the world record 12:55.30 (established by Kenya’s Moses Kiptanui earlier in the year). This world record at the Weltklasse meet in Zürich was voted “Performance of the Year” for 1995 by Track & Field News magazine.

In June 1998 in Hengelo, Netherlands, Haile set a 10 km world record 26:22.75, breaking the existing world record 26:27.85, running evenly paced 13:11/13:11 5 km splits.

In 1999, Haile starred as himself in the movie “Endurance”. The film chronicled his quest to win Olympic gold in the 10 km in Atlanta. On the track, he won a 1500/3000 metres double at the World Indoor Track Championships, defended his Outdoor World Track Championships 10 km title, and remained undefeated in all his races (which ranged from 1500 up to 10,000 metres).

In 2000, Haile again won all of his races, ranking first in the world yet again in both the 5 km and 10 km. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he became the third man in history to successfully defend an Olympic 10 km title (after Emil Zátopek and Lasse Virén). The narrow Olympic victory over Kenya’s Paul Tergat came down to a blistering final kick, with Tergat’s 26.3 seconds final 200 metres being topped by Haile’s even faster at 25.4. The winning margin of victory was only 0.09 seconds, closer than the winning margin in the men’s 100 metres dash final.

In August 2001, he ran his first Half Marathon (16 wins out of 20) and won in 1:04:34. Also in 2001, Haile won the IAAF World half Marathon Championships and a bronze medal in the 10 km at the 2001 World Championships in Athletics.

On Aug. 30, 2003, Haile topped the polls when elected as a member of the IAAF Athletes Commission. Also in 2003, at the World Championships in Paris, Haile was involved in one of the most remarkable 10 km of all time while gaining a silver medal behind countryman Kenenisa Bekele. The last half of the 10 km final at the championships was completed in a staggering 12:57.24 (12:57.2 for Bekele and 12:58.8 for Haile).

In the 2004 Athens Olympics, Haile sought to become the first man in history to win three straight Olympic gold medals in the 10 km. He was unable to do so; however, he finished fifth in a race won by his compatriot Kenenisa Bekele, who had broken both of Haile’s major track world records, the 5 km and 10 km records.

In 2005, Haile went undefeated in all of his road races. This included a British All-Comers record in the 10 km at Manchester (27:25), a win in the Amsterdam Marathon in the fastest marathon time in the world for 2006 (2:06:20), and a new world best for 10 miles in Tilburg Ten Miles race and the Netherlands (44:24).

Haile started 2006 positively by beating the world half marathon record by a full 21 seconds, recording a time of 58 minutes and 55 seconds on January 15. He broke the record (his first one on American soil) by running the half marathon of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon. During the race he also broke Paul Tergat’s 20 kilometres record, both records having stood since 1998. (Haile passed the 20 km mark in 55:48.) That year also marked another victory for Haile as he shattered the 25 km world road record (albeit in non-IAAF ratified fashion) by 68 seconds in a time of 1:11.37.

On April 23, 2006, he finished ninth in the London Marathon with a time of 2:09:05 (the race was won by Kenyan Felix Limo, who clocked 2:06:39). Haile referred to the ninth-place finish as “the worst race of my career”. However, on September 24, he came back with a win in the Berlin Marathon in the fastest time of the year, 2:05:56. His time in Berlin made him only the fifth man in history to run under 2:06 for the marathon. This was followed by a win in the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan at 2:06:52.

Then, on June 27, 2007, Haile launched an attack upon the world record for the one hour run, in Ostrava, Czech Republic. This record attempt was successful as Haile passed the hour mark at 21,285 metres (13 miles 397 yards), eclipsing the previous best of 21,101 metres, set by Mexican Arturo Barrios in La Flèche, France, on March 30 1991. Furthermore, Haile covered 50 laps (20,000 m) in 56:25.98, another world best, well within the previous 56:55.6 also set by Barrios in 1991. These are his 23rd and 24th world records.

Haile made his running debut in New York City when he won the New York City Half Marathon on 5 August 2007, in 59:24, breaking the previous course record by two minutes. His win in the Lisbon Half Marathon (59:15) in March 2008 gave him a perfect record of 9–0 in winning all of his half marathons. He lost his first half marathon in Den Haag (March 14, 2009), when he was beaten by Sammy Kitwara (59:47 for Kitwara, 59:50 for Haile)

On Sept. 30, 2007, Haile won the Berlin Marathon in 2:04:26 (4:44.8 per mile), setting the world record and shaving 29 seconds off Paul Tergat’s record, set on the same course in 2003. His victory further energized the celebrations of the Ethiopian Millennium (unique to the Ethiopian calendar), which began on Sept. 12 2007. Then on Sept. 28, 2008, he defended his Berlin Marathon title, averaging 2:56.5 per kilometer (4:43.7 per mile) for a time of 2:03:59, breaking his own world record by 27 seconds.

Haile won the Dubai Marathon on Jan. 16, 2009, but fell short of breaking his own world record that he had set four months earlier on the flat course. He finished in 2:05:29, well ahead of countryman Deressa Chimsa. In September that year, he won the Berlin Marathon for the fourth consecutive time. He attempted to break the world record he had set the previous year but, despite a quick start, warm conditions saw him finish in 2:06:08, two minutes away from his best mark. He did, however, pass the 30-kilometer point in 1:27:49, which is a new world record for a road 30 km.

In 2010, he tried to attack his own world record for the third consecutive time at the Dubai Marathon 2010. Although he won the race with a time of 2:06:09, he failed to break his 18-month world record. In a post-race interview he revealed that he had suffered back pain, requiring intensive pre-race physiotherapy, resulting from having slept in a bad position. His problems continued at the NYC Half Marathon, where he pulled up mid-race visibly uncomfortable in his running. He had an easy victory in the inaugural edition of the 10 kmh De Madrid in April. He scored his third victory at the Great Manchester Run the following month, although he missed out on Micah Kogo’s course record. He followed this with his first win at the Great North Run in September, finishing the half marathon in a time of 59:33 minutes.

Haile missed the 2011 Tokyo Marathon due to an injury, but won the half marathon at the Vienna City Marathon on April 17, 2011. About a month later Haile easily won the Great Manchester Run in England for the fourth time, finishing in 28:10. On Sept. 26, he suffered a double setback when he dropped out of the Berlin Marathon (again suffering from respiratory difficulties of exercise-induced asthma. He returned to his winning ways at the Birmingham half marathon with a new course record and followed that up with a win at the Zevenheuvelenloop in November, taking his third career victory at the Dutch 15 km.

Haile announced his retirement in 2010 but for his compatriots he was a “god” and a god can certainly not withdraw from losing. So he reversed his decision to retire and attempted to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. He did not make the team that year but he continued competing until the Great Manchester Run in 2015, which was his final catwalk.

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After the Great Manchester Run 2015, the 43-year-old told reporters that the race would be his final competitive race, though he will continue running his entire life.

“I am retiring from competitive running, not from running,” Gebrselassie said. “You cannot stop running. This is my life. I’m very happy to stop here. I knew this was going to be the last one.”
He finished sixteenth, racing it twice, the first was to cross the finish line and the second time was to greet the public and his fans, in a triumph of photos and applause. Athletics photographer Jiro Mochizuki and friend of Haile Gebrselassie followed him from his junior years till his retirement and published a book with photos of his life.

Haile Gebrselassie is a mentor and ambassador for the G4S 4teen, a programme supporting young athletes and much more than an athlete, he is a successful businessman in Ethiopia, owning real estate and a coffee plantation. He founded the Great Ethiopia Run and is a United Nations Ambassador for multiple international programs. He now employees over 1600 people in several business projects and has his own Haile resort in the beautiful Hawassa area.


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