Gebrselassie, Bekele, Sihine, World Champs 2003, 10,000m final,
St. Denis, Paris, France, photo by PhotoRun.net
I have been spoiled in my career as a track journalist. I have seen many of the greats. I witnessed, in awe, Haile Gebrselassie’s victories in the 1995 World Champs and the even more exciting 10,000 meter final in 1996. After the 1996 final, due to the very hard track, Haile Gebrselassie’s feet were horrific. He could not come back to race the final of the 5,000 meters.
The picture above is from 2003. It was a time when a very hungry, young Kenenisa Bekele desperately wanted to win the 10,000 meters. The last mile came down to under 4:06 and the last 800 meters was in the neighborhood of 1:53.
The running was brutal. No quarters asked, none given. The last lap was not a surgical strike, it was a deep cut into the heart. Kenenisa Bekele was not trying to beat Haile Gebrselassie by inches, he was going to turn him into water vapor.
For the first time, Kenenisa Bekele defeated Haile Gebrselassie in a major championship. Yet, Haile Gebrselassie, as he did whether he won or lost, was the most gracious athlete that I had ever seen.
In 2006, I interviewed Haile after his World record runs over 10 miles, 20k, and 25 kilometers on the road at the RNR Arizona event. Thanks to Haile’s great friend, the late Mike Long, I have, what I believe is an interview even better than my six hours with the late Emil Zatopek from 1991.
In 2012, at Hengelo, I ventured over to see Haile Gebrselassie run his last 10,000 meters on the track. Running 27:20, Haile was in the race until the very last lap, when Tariku Bekele went by with five other runners. In the last lap, the game was over. Haile Gebrselassie had nothing left.
I felt moisture in my eyes. It was hard, for a moment, to focus. It was difficult, for me, to see one of the greatest distance runners of all times battle to the very end, and lose, but Haile Gebreslessie would have nothing of it. He wanted no sympathy.
Right after the race, Haile provided the media with a short, but telling interview. ” I will be trading my tracksuit for a business suit more. I will not be racing on the track anymore”
Haile Gebrselassie had run his last 10,000 meters as he had run his first 10,000 meters: with dreams of winning and fast laps to come.