Haile Gebrselassie set new world records at 20k and the hour run last week in Ostrava, breaking the world record of Arturro Barrios from sixteen years ago! What is the signifigance of this record? Alot, if you read this commentary.
On June 28, Haile Gebrselassie, the two time Olympic champion at 10k, the three time 10k World Champion, added world records 23 and 24 to his career, tying Paavo Nurmi as the distance runner with the most world records next to their name. Records 23 and 24 were esoteric, but still quite signifigant-the 20k record on the track and the hour run.
Hitting the 10k in 28:11.4, Haile only had company for two more laps, then he was on his own. Churning out 68 second laps for 50 plus laps on the 400 meter track. With a near capacity crowd cheering the most competitive distance runner of our generation, Haile continued to pursue the elusive world records. Remember, friends, that Haile had made it to 39 laps two years ago when he dropped out with cramps. But that was not to happen this night. Gebrselassie hit the 20,000 meter mark 30 seconds ahead of Barrios’ run, 56:20 and the rest was history.
The hour run is a tough event. It requires pace, it requires a positive attitude that starts with the starting gun and continues through the gruesome miles, seven, eight, nine, ten and so on, until, with 60 seconds to go one sprints like mad, hoping to add another few hundred yards to “your record”.
This writer’s relationship with the hour run goes back to 1976. At the old San Francisco State track, the one hour run championships were held. Running with my teammate, Bob Lucas, I decided to do two fateful things: a) run in my Nike Pre Montreal track spikes, with no socks, and b) run in the championship heat. Bob showed a little more control and ran in the next heat.
The early miles went by fine, running 5.45’s or so, but about seven miles, the feet started to get hot. It was also the my first experience with something else-getting lapped. The late Brian Maxwell, Mike Bordell, Jim Nuccio were churning out 74-75 seconds a lap to my 85’s. About every six laps, these three runners would come by, running harder than I had ever seen. It was strangely beautiful, as I saw them go by and felt the blood blisters pop, one after another on my feet. I perseverred for nine miles before I changed shoes, and just barely missed my goal of ten miles. For Maxwell, Bordell and Nuccio, it was about 12 miles, 150 yards.
Now, back to the Emperor. Haile was running 4:32 miles, one after another, after hitting 12.4 miles in 56:20, he kept running, until he hit 21 kilometers, 102 meters, the former record and he began to kick. Less than a minute to go, Haile was running the race within the race, as an official tried gamely to predict where the great distance runner would finish. The official erred and had to start running again ( to do one of these races, one has at least three other runners and a lap counter, so the runner, who has to focus on his or her pace and energy stores, has one less thing to worry about!
Haile Gebrselassie hit 21 kilometers, 285 meters, or for those of us who still have metric envy, 13 miles, 296 yards, nearly 200 yards more than Arturro Barrios’ record!
What does this record mean to Haile? Alot. In January 2006, at the RNR Arizona, Haile broke the records for 10 miles, 20k, and the half marathon on the roads. He was gracious enough to allow me to interview him for an hour that day, signing autographs for two more hours afterwards. Haile said that ” Every time I run, fans expect a record from Gebrselassie! What about a good race? Not enough, Haile must set records! Sometimes a good race does not have a record!” This was Haile at his most honest.
Now, in his career, Haile has surprised the critics. First he ran Fukouka and -real, Berlin in 06, then after a DNF in FLORA London, Haile came back and ran 10,000 meters in Hengelo in 26:52, taking sixth in a tight race.
Last fall, Haile had gone for broke at the -real, Berlin and was on record pace through 35 kilometers, and with neither competition or much energy left, the record would not happen.
Haile Gebrselassie is at the time in his career when many in his position would retire, but he seems focused to achieve a few more things-a marathon record, a medal in Beijing at the marathon distance. He has tied Nurmi’s world record series and Haile Gebrselassie wants to write his own final lines in his running biography.
What will he do? One knows that it will be competitive, no holds barred, a battle of the heart, the legs and the soul. He understands, like his fans do, that the pursuit of excellence has its own rewards.
The next twelve months should be exciting to watch. Haile Gebrselassie is not ready to retire just yet.