WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
It was suggested by his manager earlier this year that Haile Gebrselassie – regarded by many as the world’s greatest ever distance-runner – should use his 2012 racing campaign as a way of winding down his illustrious twenty-year international career but the veteran runner insists he is not ready for a farewell tour just yet, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 39-year-old Ethiopian spoke passionately about his training and racing plans ahead of the annual Bupa Great Manchester Run on Sunday, and expressed his desire to continue his relationship with the marathon distance despite missing out on Olympic selection for London this summer.
A two-time Olympic and three-time World champion over 10,000m on the track, Gebrselassie will tackle the streets of the North West’s capital this weekend, where he hopes to claim his fifth and fourth-consecutive victory in a race which boosts another two of the world’s four-fastest ever marathon runners – world record-holder Patrick Makau of Kenya, Ayele Abshero of Ethiopia and the 2008 Olympic bronze-medallist Tsegaye Kebede also of Ethiopia.
“Sunday will be a very tough race,” Gebrselassie explained of the tenth anniversary event.
“I hope to run a good competition and get a good time - my preparation is wonderful and you have a very good race here with many crowds - it would be wonderful to win again, it would be big news.”
A former world record holder for the 26.2mile distance with a 2:03.59 clocking from the 2008 Berlin event, Gebrselassie spoke of how the challenge of facing Makau – who took the marathon mark in Berlin last autumn – helped maintain his motivation to train after a disappointing marathon in Japan:
“The Vienna half-marathon last month – which he won in 60:52 - was important to keep in shape for Manchester and also for the 10,000m on the track in Hengelo next week,” he revealed.
“I know how big the Great Manchester Run is so I’ve had to keep very fit and I wish to run a good time in Hengelo – at least 27mins something would be wonderful.”
The ‘Emperor’ as he is known as in his homeland, is constantly looking for new challenges after failing to make the Ethiopian squad for the London Games, courtesy of a lacklustre 2:08.17 final tilt in the Tokyo event earlier this year.
His participation over twenty-five laps of the track next weekend has led many to question whether he still harbours hopes of making his fourth Olympic appearance but the twenty-six-time world record breaker has other thoughts:
“I don’t think there a chance I will make the team – we have many good runners but it’s not a shame as it’s a special year for the UK so for me, coming here to run makes me happy and I will be in London to watch,” Gebrselassie, who has a 26:22.75 lifetime best dating back to 1998 - explained.
“I love London - the Olympics is special but London is wonderful anyway and like a second home to me.”
The past few years haven’t been easy sailing for the ever-smiling ‘Geb’ but he is determined to end his athletic career on his own terms and in his usual infectiously-positive style.
Having won nine marathons since switching his attention mainly away from the track after finishing fifth in the 10,000m in the 2004 Athens Olympics, the three-time world indoor 3,000m champion has faced an uphill battle as age began to slowly catch up with him.
As an asthma sufferer, he withdrew ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon due to concerns over the air pollution levels and went onto finish sixth in the 10,000m event ahead of a career-defining moment in November, 2010.
After having pulled out mid-way through the New York marathon with a knee problem, Gebrselassie subsequently announced his retirement from the sport and luckily, changed his mind a few days later.
“Once something happens, I only think about the future, not the past – what can I do?” he revealed on his recent misfortunes.
“I’m a sportsman and you have to learn from the past and move on from the mistakes.”
Evidently past the sadness of the decision on his London 2012 fate, Gebrselassie – when questioned on his finest Olympic memory - stated:
“Of course, Sydney was the one (where he took 10,000m gold in an epic clash with Kenyan Paul Tergat) - even nowadays, when I watch the video I say ‘ah, amazing!’ I am still friends with Paul and I last saw him six-months ago.”
Whenever this living legend decides to hang up his racing shoes, he will indeed be granted a fine farewell from his army of fans across the globe – but just not yet he sincerely hopes:
“I’m not ready to say goodbye – let me do my job first and race next year – I’m not old yet!” he exclaimed.
“I don’t want to be finishing ninth and tenth so yes, it would be better to stop if I’m no longer in the top three.
“My time used to be 50/50 running and business but now it’s more focused on business as there are many things to do back home – my hotel, the real estate, the car factory, the fitness centre.
“I’ll keep with the marathon – I’ll do an autumn marathon somewhere like in America or Europe - it’s amazing how many Ethiopians we have running so fast – they’re surprising me, it’s great for future generations.”
And how about leaving an athletic legacy as well as great memories?
“No, I don’t think I’ll be a coach – I would be too tough as I know what it takes to be really great!” the great man explained.