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African Legend: The Haile Gebrselassie Story

Haile Gebrselassie is an Ethiopian retired athlete, considered as one of the greatest long distance runners of all time in the world. His...

Haile Gebrselassie is an Ethiopian retired athlete, considered as one of the greatest long distance runners of all time in the world.

His runs range from 800 meters to marathon, indoor, outdoor and cross country; and road running in the latter years of his career. He broke 61 national records and set 27 world records. He is a two time Olympic Gold Medallist; four times World Champion and four times World Indoor Champion. In 2008, at the age of 35, he broke his own marathon record by 27 seconds at the Berlin Marathon. The record stood unchallenged for three years, and because he was above 35 years old at the time, the record still stands as the master age group world record. He is one the most recognized and respected personalities in Ethiopia; considered as a pioneer and a hero by many. Haile is also a successful business man, who owns a chain of resorts and other businesses in Ethiopia.

Tapiwa Zuze

Early Life:
Haile Gebrselassie was born in Oromia, Assela, Arisi; on 18 April 1973 from a farming family. He is the 10th child for his family. Haile started running at a very early age, because he was attending a school 10 kilometres away from home. He ran the 10 km distance every day, on bare foot; and he did the same to get back to his home as well. When home, he looked after the cows and sheep; and helped his father on many assignments at the farm. The family had limited resources, and everyone had to work hard to make ends meet. At the age of only seven, during the Moscow Olympics, Haile heard on a radio about the victory of another Ethiopian Champion; Mirtus Yefter, who became an Olympic Gold Medallist in the 10,000 metres race. He was inspired by that achievement, and dreamt to become a gold medallist himself one day. According to Haile; that was the monument he realized running could help him do great things in his life. Following the footsteps of his older brother, Haile joined the school athletics team. Though, his father was resistant of his sons becoming runners, believing it was a waste of time; Haile was determined to become a champion. His desire was to follow paths of great Ethiopian athletes like Abebe Bikila and Mirtus Yefter.

Running Career:
The first moment Haile realized that he was a gifted runner came when he was still in elementary school. He won a five kilometres race, competing with boys a lot older than him. No one expected him to win that race. He had initially been advised to drop out. Haile says winning that particular race, and the appreciation that followed it, gave him the confidence and assurance that he can go a long way as an athlete.

Haile started to gain international recognition when he won the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races at the 1992 World Junior Championship; in Seoul, South Korea. That same year, he won a silver medal in World Cross Country Championship held in Boston, USA. From 1993-1999, he won the World Championship consecutively. In 1995, he broke both the 5,000 and 10,000 world records. His performance that year was voted as ‘Performance of the Year’ by Track and Field News Magazine. In 1996, Haile won his first Olympic Gold Medal, in Atlanta, USA; making his childhood dream a reality.

The year 1998, could be considered one of the most successful years in his professional career. Haile broke the 2,000 and 3,000 metres indoor competition world records, took back his 5,000 and 10,000 metre world records; and shared the Golden League Jackpot, by winning all the races that summer. In 1999, Haile starred as himself in the movie, Endurance. The movie narrates his struggle, strength and determination to become one of the greatest athletes of the time; and his quest to become a gold medallist at the Atlanta Olympics. In the same year, Haile won in all the races he took part, and defended his records, cementing his legendary status. He also won all of his races in year 2000, and became a Gold Medallist at the Sydney Olympics; defending his championship in 10,000 metres. That makes him the third person in the history, to defend a 10,000 metre win consecutively at the Olympics.

In the 2004 Athens Olympics, Haile sought to become the first athlete in the world to win three gold medals in three straight Olympics, in 10,000 meters. He did not succeed and finished fifth in a race won by another great Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele.

Haile then left the truck and focused on road run, the Marathon. He won the Amsterdam marathon in 2005, Berlin, 2006, Fukuoka 2006, and in Berlin 2007 where he broke the marathon record. He continued to win Dubai Marathon in 2009, Berlin 2009, and Dubai again 2010. Haile announced retirement in 2010, after dropping out of the New York City Marathon with an inflamed knee. However, just after a few days after, he wrote on his twitter account that he was reconsidering his decision to retire, and might run the marathon in the 2012 London Olympics. He then returned to the race, winning the half marathon in Vienna City and the Great Manchester Run in England in 2011. However, in the same year, at the Berlin Marathon, Haile faced another setback, dropping out of the race; and saw his marathon record broken by Patrick Makau. He also failed to make it to the Ethiopian National Team for the 2012 London Olympics.

Haile’s 25 years long running career ended with retirement in 2015, after he finished 16th in the Great Manchester Run.

Haile still remains close to athletics, and was a president of the Athletics’ Federation in Ethiopia, until his resignation in November 2018 after two years of serving. He also established the Ethiopian Great Run in 2001, an annual highly celebrated 10 kilometres run in Addis Ababa, where thousands of people and athletes run every year.

Currently, Haile, with his wife Alem, runs several businesses in Ethiopia under a company name of Haile & Alem International PLC. The business includes a chain of resorts in different parts of the country, coffee and honey export, automotive and real state.

Personal Life:
Haile got married in 1996, to his wife Alem, in 1996. They have four children together, three daughters and a son. Haile and his family live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Originally written by: Seble Teweldebirhan (for Ethiobiography)

Adopted and edited by Tapiwa Zuze -