Global Perspectives: Haile Gebrselassie, by Larry Eder


Global Perspectives is a new series of pieces that I am developing for our Shooting Star Media, Inc. publications. The idea is to give our readers a closer view of some of the spectacular global moments in our sport. The first was Usain Bolt, and it was received well. This is our second. I would love to hear what you think of this piece, so please email me [email protected] Thanks!


Haile Gebrselassie’s new world record for the marathon was set on September 28 at the real,– Berlin Marathon,-breaking the record he set 364 days earlier over the same course.

On September 28,2008,at the real,– Berlin Marathon,35-year-old Haile Gebrselassie broke his own world record for the marathon,and became the first man to break two hours,four minutes with his time of 2:03:59.

He had company until about 36 kilometers, and then ran the final 6 kilometers alone, almost a year to the day after setting his first marathon world record of 2:04:26, both on the fast Berlin course. In that one year, Gebrselassie lowered Paul Tergat’s previous world record of 2:04:55 by nearly a minute.

“I am so happy,” he told Pat Butcher of England’s Financial Timesafter his most recent record.“Everything was perfect—the weather,the pacemakers. Two weeks ago,I had a little problem.I ran 20K forty seconds faster than in my preparation last year,but I had some cramps and missed a week’s training.I started again a week ago and had
some doubts today,but not at the end.This [Berlin] is my luck city.”

This was Gebrselassie’s eighth marathon and his 26th world record,ranging from two miles indoors to the hour-run on the track, to the half marathon on the roads. Geb has eclipsed his hero, Paavo Nurmi, in the number of ratified world records he has set. But few know that Haile’s ventures into the marathon are not new;in fact, his
first marathon dates back two decades.

Twenty years ago...

All of 15 years old,ayoung Ethiopian made his way to the capital city of Addis Ababa in search of his first race. There was one race that weekend—a marathon.26.2 miles.Wearing boots,the young Haile Gebrselassie ran two hours, forty-eight minutes. “I finished because therewereno cars on the course.I had no choice,” recalled Haile in his interview with Pat Butcher.

Like his hero Nurmi, Gebrselassie twice won the Olympic 10,000-meters gold medal.His wins in 1996 and 2000 stand as two of the classic distance races.The crowds in Atlanta and Sydney were treated to two of the world’s greatest distance runners—Paul Tergat of Kenya and Gebrselassie of Ethiopia—battling it out over 25 laps.

In the 1996 Olympic 10,000 meters,Haile reached the halfway mark in 13:55.22,and then ran the final 5,000 meters in 13:11.5. It took his final steps and a brutal 57.5 final 400 meters to win over Tergat,27:07.34 to 27:08.14.

In 2000,in Sydney,it again came down to Tergat and Gebrselassie,with a final 400 meters run in 56.56 and a last 200 in 26.0! Haile ran 27:18.20 to Tergat’s 27:18.29,a finish margin closer than the one between Maurice Greene and Ato Boldon in the 100 meters! With his race in Sydney, which former Runner’s World publisher George Hirsch once called perhaps the best distance track race of all time,Gebrselassie joined Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, and Lasse Viren as winners of twoOlympic 10,000-meter titles. It was also the most closelycontested distance race in Olympic history,with gold and silver determined by just 9/100ths of a second!

Three years later, in London in 2003,Gebrselassie tackled his first serious marathon and found himself up against Khalid Khannouchi and Tergat. Some running experts thought that perhaps Haile had waited too long to try the marathon,not knowing about his youthful adventure at age 15. Some thought that his track stride would hurt him over the marathon distance.

Khannouchi ran 2:05:38 to break his own world record. Tergat finished 10 second back in second, and Gebrselassie was third in an impressive 2:06:35.So much for the experts. Haile ran Flora London in April 2006,and was in the race most of the way,but faded to finish ninth in 2:09:05.In September 2006,he ran Berlin for the first time and won.On world-record pace for 35 kilometers,he finished in 2:05:41.In London in 2007, Haile looked great for 30 kilometers, and then dropped out, his first DNF. It was later determined that he had developed an allergy.

Haile returned to Berlin in 2007, the race where he had his first marathon win the year before, and he was a changed man. Running with pacemakers until 36 kilometers, Haile again ran alone over the final kilometers. He was focused and he kept on task. He was determined in this,his seventh marathon,to get the world record many had thought he was capable of. He did just that, running a stellar 2:04:26 and knocking 29 seconds off Tergat’s four-year-old record.

At Beijing in 2008, in his fourth Olympic 10,000-meters final, Gebrselassie ran the last 5,000 meters like the old days.The problem was that there were still five runners with him. His countrymen Kenenisa Bekele headed for gold, setting a new Olympic record of 27:01.17, and Sileshi Sihine claimed the silver in 27:02.77. Haile fought
valiantly for third but was outsprinted by Micah Kogo of Kenya, who took the bronze, Moses Madai of Kenya in fourth,and Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea in fifth. Gebrselassie finished a gallant sixth,in 27:06.68—faster than his win in Göteborg at the World Championships and both of his Olympic gold medals. Afterwards, Haile smiled and noted to the media,“If I could have run the first half of the race faster,I could have medaled.” The pace had been 13:48 for the first half and 13:13 for the second half!

Another Berlin marathon, another record!

Haile obviously recovered from Beijing well, as his second world record in one year over the same Berlin Marathon course—his eighth marathon,and his 26th world record—attests.And as he said,“I am so happy.” On November 30 in Sydney,Australia, Haile Gebrselassie ran a 15-kilometer race in 42:20. He doesn’t seem to be
slowing down,and we can only ask:How long will he continue to compete? When asked that question in Berlin,he shrugged his shoulders and suggested 2016!

And why not? He’ll onlybe 42.

The above piece will appear in Shooting Star Media, Inc. publications in January/February 2009.

Happy Holidays from

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