WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
After amassing no less than twenty-seven world-records during two decades at the pinnacle of their sport, most athletes would think it is time to put their feet up but then again, Ethiopian distance-running legend Haile Gebrselassie is not like most athletes, as Nicola Bamford found.
The 37-year-old world marathon record-holder is a true smiling assassin. With a broad, twinkling smile wherever he goes, Gebrselassie also knows when to knuckle down to serious business and it is this winning mixture of part-showman, part-ferocious competitor in his affable personality that makes him all the more successful in life.
As busy away from the sport as he is during the road race season, Gebrselassie cuts an intensely focused, determined yet modest figure in and out of the spotlight. The ultimate achiever in sport and in business, the two-time Olympic 10,000m champion is evidently content with both of his careers and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The Emperor, as he is affectionately known in athletics circles, has as usual, started the year with a bang. With classy wins in Dubai and Madrid during the spring, the month of May not only witnessed the opening of Gebrselassie’s five-star hotel in his homeland but also the retention of his BUPA Great Manchester Run title:
“We had a very good race to celebrate the opening and it was a wonderful time,” Gebrselassie explained. “I’m really happy, as I’ve been building it for the last three years; spending a lot of time there. It’s not easy building a hotel; it’s something that will keep me very busy from now on.”
Busy is not the word for Gebrselassie, as he juggles two demanding lifestyles with him when constantly travelling the globe in search of even more athletic success. He appears addicted to winning and succeeding against the odds and is an icon in Ethiopia for using his fame and wealth for the good of the nation.
After claiming his third 10km title in Manchester over a classy international field in a wind-affected 28:02, the four-time World 10,000m track champion said:
"I thought I might have gone much faster but the conditions weren't helping me. But this was an important win and I feel there is more to come in the future.” The 5ft5 athlete continued: “Now I'll think about my next races after speaking with my manager. But to win a third title in Manchester has always been my ambition."
So for ‘Geb’ it is now back to Ethiopia for a combination of lung-quenching training, the management of his business empire which brings much-needed mass employment opportunities to his countrymen, and a chance to spend quality time with his family. This is a man after all, with such a tireless work ethic, that it literally is, all just in a day’s work for a global superstar.
Despite still managing a hectic lifestyle, Gebrselassie is adamant that his running is still the main priority: “My life has changed (since breaking the world marathon record in 2008 at aged 35 with 2:03:59),” Geb revealed.
“Now, I will still get up early then train but now I go for a little work, afternoon nap, work some more and then it is family time.”
Evidently with the same steely determination to succeed as when he used to run 10km to school and back each day, which led to his left arm being crooked as if still holding his school-books, Gebrselassie speaks with the same enthusiasm for his running as he did at the peak of his track career at the turn of the decade:
“Training’s very good. I’m ok, I’m training well and I’m trying to minimise my speed-work to stay away from injuries. I’ve been doing about 130-miles each week. Training really has been wonderful.”
Having arguably the world’s greatest distance-runner for a father must be a huge inspiration for his children, despite his globe-trotting?
“My eldest daughter (aged twelve) is gifted; she’s talented but she’s told me she doesn’t want to run.” Gebrselassie explained with not a hint of disappointment. “The other girls are ten and eight – the ten-year-old sometimes runs to school and my son is four. It’s normal to be away from them as I travel the world but they watch my races on the Internet and come to watch me in the big races.”
A four-time world indoor champion over 1,500m and 3,000m and even a world cross-country medallist in the early 90’s, Gebrselassie, who surprisingly suffers from asthma, has been asked many times about retirement which does not enthuse him in the slightest:
“People keep asking me why I keep running and when are you going to retire but I say no, I don’t want to retire. You can’t plan to retire – if it comes tomorrow, I do not care,” he revealed with an air of contentment.
On how he motivates himself to keep attacking his global bests, Gebrselassie’s showman-type personality shines through:
“(I do it) when I want an adventure; to have a kind of pain and to show and surprise people. We haven’t decided which races to do for the rest of the year yet but I will have the marathon in either Berlin, New York or Boston in the autumn.”
One would expect ‘Geb the Great’ to have run out of goals on the back of such a long, illustrious career but the prospect of competing in the London 2012 Olympics and improving his marathon time even further is just too tempting:
“2012 is my big aim – the marathon, but hopefully no pollen,” Gebrselassie revealed, as the British capital is not kind to hay-fever sufferers in the spring/summer-time.
“2hrs will be very difficult,” Gebrselassie explained. “For future generations; possibly. Maybe in 20-30years. If I continue to train well, I can run 2:03- 30-something – that is my aim.”
That certainly would be a ‘Haile impressive’ end to an astonishing sporting career.