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Are Haile Gebrselassie’s Best Days Behind Him?

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Feb. 28, 2011

Are Haile's best days behind him? Photo: PhotoRun.net

The marathon world-record holder followed up his DNF in New York with a DNS at Tokyo this past weekend.

Written by: David Monti with Ken Nakamura
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Haile Gebrselassie’s marathon career began in London, 2002, and although nobody knows when it will end, it is beyond argument that it has stalled.  

The two-time Olympic gold medallist, who will turn 38 on April 18, has not finished a marathon since winning the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in January, 2010.  In his most recent start, at the ING New York City Marathon last November, he ran just past 25 kilometers before knee pain forced him to stop.  Distraught, he abruptly retired hours later, just two days after the organizers of the Tokyo Marathon had announced his participation in their race, which took place this past weekend.  Although he almost immediately came out of retirement after his DNF at New York, he did not run Tokyo, sidelined by two badly bruised knees.

“His training was going very well,” explained his longtime manager Jos Hermens, who came to Tokyo to face reporters.  ”However, last week he injured his knee when he fell during the training run in the countryside.  Sometimes he falls, but falling on grass is not a problem.  But this time he banged his left knee on the hard rock when he fell and it was very painful. He wounded his knee, so he rested for a few days. But after a few days his pain has shifted more to the inside of his knee.  When he tried to run on a treadmill for 10 minutes, it was very painful on his both knees.  By favoring his left knee, his right knee also started to hurt.  So he decided to have it diagnose with MRI.  The MRI showed that his knee is bruised and the conclusion was that this injury will be difficult to heal in a few days or a week. It will take a month to recover.”

Gebrselassie nearly withdrew from New York, too.  He sought medical attention the night before the race which showed that one knee had filled with fluid.  A race doctor drained the knee, but the multiple world record holder was in pain before the race, and only made the decision to start minutes before the gun was fired.  Hermens, his closest confidant, was there to advise him.

“In New York, it was different kind of injury,” Hermens continued in Tokyo.  ”He did not fall down or anything similar. So he was able to start the race, but he had a problem during the race and did not finish.” 

With several businesses to run and, by his own count, more than 600 people in his employ, Gebrselassie kept his racing schedule light last year to focus on New York.  He only started six races, but each time he finished he won.  In addition to his victory in Dubai (2:06:09), he also won the Madrid Marathon 10K (28:56), Bupa Great Manchester Run 10K (28:02), and the Bupa Great North Run half marathon (59:33).  In addition to his DNF at the ING New York City Marathon, he also dropped out of the NYC Half Marathon last March, citing a medical problem which inhibited his breathing (since resolved).

Hermens said last week that although the bruised knees for Gebrselassie are a setback, his star client isn’t finished.

“He is 37 years old now, but it is amazing how hard he trains, and how disciplined he is,” Hermens asserted.  ”I saw him train two weeks ago in Addis Ababa.  Even now, he trains with his (stationary) bike as much as possible. So please don’t write him off.  I work with many athletes but he is someone very special.  He absolutely would want to compete in the London Olympics.” 

In the near term, Gebrselassie will do his best to get ready for a half marathon which will be held in conjunction with the Vienna Marathon in April.  He also committed to return to the 10K in Manchester.  Hermens said he could miss one or both of those races.

“His first scheduled race will be half marathon in Vienna in mid-April, but not sure whether he will be ready for the race or not,” Hermens explained.  ”It all depends on the speed of his recovery.  But, it will be very difficult to compete there.  In May, he is scheduled to run 10 kilometers in Manchester.  Hopefully he will be recovered for that half marathon and 10-kilometer races are important to him for speed workouts.  However, at the moment, recovering from an injury is most important.”

Gebrselassie could still use the 2012 Tokyo Marathon to qualify for the Olympic Games, Hermens said.  He would also like to compete again in Japan where he showed the range of his ability.  In addition to his Fukuoka Marathon victory in 2006, Gebrselassie won the IAAF World Indoor Championships 1500m crown in Maebashi in 1999, leaving middle distance stars like Laban Rotich and Rui Silva in his wake.

“He is sorry that he could not be here,” Hermens said.  ”He was looking forward to compete here.  Having won the Fukuoka Marathon before, he enjoys running in Japan.”

FILED UNDER: Features / New York City Marathon TAGS: / / / /

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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