The Ageless Emperor: Haile Gebrselassie Eyeing Fifth Olympics

Moving To The Marathon

He did not know it then but it was the beginning of the end of his domination on the track. Bekele announced himself to the world with some spectacular performances in Athens 2004, eclipsing his former idol. Now in his thirties, Gebrselassie began to focus on his marathon career, the distance he will run in London, setting the current world record of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 59.28 seconds in 2008.

Race organizers are offering huge rewards for the first man to dip under the magical 2 hour mark for the marathon, an almost unthinkable feat of endurance. Even Gebrselassie admits it is beyond him saying, “I don’t think it can be done in the next five years, so it won’t be possible for me, but we need a new generation of new athletes. Maybe in twenty, thirty years it will be possible.”

He’s returning to Berlin later this month, the scene of his record breaking exploits and one of the fastest courses in the world, to try and secure qualification for London 2012, explaining, “I have decided to run in Berlin [in September], hopefully in a good time so I will be picked for the Ethiopian team for the Olympics. A lot will depend on this marathon. I skipped this year’s World Championships because I can run a faster time in Berlin than in Daegu and I already have 4 world titles.”

“Of course I would like to be the marathon world champion, but Olympics are more important. Then I will be preparing for London 2012, I am not sure about any other races yet. I have struggled in London in the past but this has been in April as there are certain pollen there that I could not cope with. In August that won’t be an issue.”

Gebrselassie’s passion for running is matched only by his passion to develop his country. Not for him, the glitz and glamour of a life in Europe or the States. He has invested many of the millions earnt on the track back into Addis Ababa and he dreams of sport’s biggest circus coming to his continent.

“It would be fantastic to have the Olympics in Africa. My big dream is for Africa to develop as the rest of the world,” he says. “We need to fight the corruption and work and study hard to get there. It would be a big stimulation for us if we had the chance to organize the Olympics in the future, but at the moment I don’t see one country who can afford it. Maybe in the future we can do it with several countries.”

“I love my country. I love my people in Ethiopia and Africa. We have to develop our continent and I want to do anything possible to help develop my country and continent. I am working hard with building schools, hotels and businesses. I hope I can be a good role model for the Ethiopian youth. And I am very happy with the outside help, but I feel we need to work harder and accomplish more ourselves.”

Such is the affection he’s held in, there have been many calls for Gebrselassie to one day hold the top job in Ethiopia but he feels such talk is premature.

“At this moment it is not an option for me to be president,” he says of a future political career. “It is a big job and I feel I would like to get some more experience in my life. If I did get the chance in future, my goals would be to bring better infrastructure, better education and better birth control to Ethiopia. We need a smaller population, better education and more progress.”

For now though, he has a third Olympic gold medal to concentrate on and we may have the chance to appreciate the unique gifts of the ‘Little Master’ for a while yet.

“I feel I can still be running for many years,” he muses. “In the end the results will decide when I need to make a decision about retirement, but I am still curious how well I can run when I am over 40.”

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