Ethiopian Athlete Haile Gebrsellassie Is Regarded As The Greatest Distance Runner In History
A lot of us first encountered Haile in the highly inspirational 2011 Johnnie Walker ad that featured him running across the streets of rural Ethiopia, we loved him then for his words, for how motivating it was when he said he ran for his family, for Africa, for those who said he couldn’t do it. We loved him for the inspiring words he closed with, “There is one big push waiting inside you, just keep going, keep walking.”
We nonetheless had no idea that beyond being an athlete, Haile Gebrsellassi, the Ethiopian sprinter with a beautiful smile, was also a great one. He broke 61 Ethiopian national records ranging from 800 metres to the marathon, set 27 world records, won two Olympic gold medals, both in the 10,000 meters, garnered several major marathon victories, including four in a row at the Berlin Marathon and as Wikipedia reports, is widely regarded as the greatest distance runner in history.
But things have not always been rosy for the Forty-Four year old sprinter.
His story starts in the town of Asella in Ethiopia, as a boy born to peasant farmers in one room house with nine siblings from which he ran barefoot ten kilometers to school every morning and back, clutching his school books. He asserts to have been inspired from an early age by the great Ethiopian runner Miruts in the 1980 Moscow Games.
“Going to school, helping our parents, fetching water from the river. My training started when I was two. It was part of my life.” He said in a 2013 interview on CNN.
His big break came when he was without any actual training asked to try for the Ethiopian national athletics team and he excelled far above his trained teammates. He would continue to excel as a 19 year old, winning both the 5000 and 10000 metres at the Junior World Championships. Haile’s first Olympic success was in 1996, Atlanta, and at 23 years old where he triumphed in the 10,000 metres winning gold.
In 1998, Gebrselassie shattered both the 5000m and 10,000m world records just days apart from each other, first with a win in Hengelo, Netherlands in a time of 26:22, breaking Paul Tergat’s then-world record by five seconds.
Haile’s 20,000m and one hour marks still to this day stand as world records and his career highlights in the 1500m (3:31.76), 3000m (7:25.09), 5000m (12:39.36), 10,000m (26:22.75), half marathon (58:55) and marathon (2:03:59) all remain in the top 11 all-time in the world.
With a countless number of achievements, one would expect that the athlete would relax and take a break from the life of competition, Haile however thinks otherwise. In between managing a business, mentoring young ones, being with his family and fueling his political ambitions to become President, Haile has other plans.
In 2013, he told CNN, “I will run until I die.”
Featured Image: Two Oceans Marathon