Just before Haile recieved his Hall of Fame plaque, I teased him. I reminded him that in Hengelo, when he ran his last 10,000 meters on the track ( May 2012), he told us that he was trading his tracksuit for a businesssuit.
And less than fifteen minutes later, Haile Gebrselassie won the Abebe Bikila Award. Haile was honored, noting that Abebe Bikila won before any other Africans had. Bikila, noted Haile, was the first of Ethiopians and Kenyans.
Here is a nice piece by Cathal Dennehy, the media winner of the IAAF World Champs 800 meter media race in 1:59, and a prolific contributor to RunBlogRun.
You would think, at 42 years of age, having won two Olympic gold medals, five world titles and set 27 world records, Haile Gebrselassie would be kind of done with this whole running thing.
You’d think wrong.
“I still do two sessions a day,” says the recently retired Ethiopian, who was inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame on Thursday. “I’m telling you: running is addictive. I do my morning session and in the afternoon, I have to go in the gym. I don’t know why – I do enough in the morning – but in the afternoon, my body tells me to go there and sweat again. I ask some other people [who have also retired] and they tell me, ‘we don’t get it, we don’t run’, but for me it’s different.”
For Gebrselassie, it’s always been different.
As a child, running was no more than a means of transport, a way of reducing the commuting time on the 10km journey to school, but his outstanding ability would soon set him apart from his peers – and just about every distance runner in history.
Little did he know back then, that he was laying the foundation for a career that is now widely regarded as the best in distance running history, one which brought him more fame and wealth than any kid from Asella could even comprehend.
Earlier this year, though, Gebrselassie was forced to finally accept that his body was no longer co-operating with his demands and he announced his retirement after finishing a lowly 16th in the Great Manchester Run.
“I cannot do fast training anymore,” he says bluntly. “It’s not how long you stay training, it’s about the quality, how fast you run. It’s very difficult to hold it for many days because of a problem I have with my knee and ankle; they’re not good any more. Of course running is still there: last week I did more than 90 miles.”
Although Gebrselassie intends to take part in the Great Ethiopian Run on November 22, he won’t do so from a competitive angle, something that is taking some adjustment. “I want to finish the 10K, but I don’t run for competition anymore,” he says. “This Sunday I wish I could run here as a normal jogger, but everybody wants to see Haile Gebrselassie at the front with the elites, and that doesn’t work anymore.”
These days, business interests and family life absorb most of his time, but the 42-year-old still holds a keen interest in his beloved sport and was delighted to see Sebastian Coe elected IAAF President in recent months.
“It’s really the right decision,” says Gebrselassie. “I would like to say thank you to the federations for giving him the vote, because he was in the sport for many years and he is what athletics needs. Look at what he did with the Olympics in London. If I have time I will try to help IAAF and my federation to bring more youngsters to the sport.”
And what would the emperor from Ethiopia say to Coe if the Briton came to him for advice on developing the sport?
“A lot, but he doesn’t need any advice from me,” says Gebrselassie. “Athletics is a little bit down. One thing he has to do is change the concepts that we have. In the marathon you see the World Marathon Majors, and track and field has to be something very attractive for the audience. When they love to watch track and field the sponsors will come very easily. Seb knows all those things and he can do them all step by step.”
Since the halcyon days for Ethiopian distance running when Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele maintained a stranglehold on Olympic and world titles, their succeeding countrymen have repeatedly played second fiddle to Great Britain’s Mo Farah on the track, but what can the Ethiopians do to stop him?
“This is his time,” says Gebrselassie. “I could not tell athletes to do it a certain way. If you want to be a winner of any competition, you have to know your competitors, and Mo Farah knows who’s in the race and knows which way to beat them. He competed with us for many years but he was very special after 2011. He changed his style and he beat everybody.”
Which brings us to one final question: if Gebrselassie was in his best shape today and had to race Farah, what would he do to beat him?
“He knows the last kick,” says Gebrselassie with a smile. “I’d finish him early.”