Legendary athlete, two-time Olympic champion: Who is Haile Gebrselassie?

Haile Gebrselassie, aka the Ethiopian lion... A dream he had in the cornfield when he was a little boy took him to the top of the world. Haile inspired the dreams of thousands of children who listened and watched him. And with a big smile on his face...

By David Foster Published on 10 Temmuz 2024 : 14:43.
Legendary athlete, two-time Olympic champion: Who is Haile Gebrselassie?

A seven-year-old Ethiopian boy listens to the news on the radio. This is an activity that he enjoys with his vineyards, gardens, sheep, and goats whenever he gets the chance. After all, radio brings news from around the world. For a little child, this news is a source of unlimited imagination. Well, a child uses everything he sees and hears as an appetizer for all kinds of dreams.

This kid is no different. Of course, he is affected by everything. However, this radio broadcast fixes the effect at one point. The voice coming from the radio announces the Ethiopian athletes who will compete in the 10000 meters at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the race time. The little boy notes the time. Then he takes out the batteries of his flashlight and sneaks out of the house, taking a small radio with him. Direction, corn field…

When the time comes, the little boy is ready. He will enjoy this moment alone, no one can stop him. As you know, we slaughtered the things his father hung and slaughtered at home. The brothers are already crowded, they don't give any peace. But now he can listen to the race comfortably.

Haile Gebrselassie (born 18 April 1973) is an Ethiopian former long-distance track, road running athlete, and businessman. He won two Olympic gold medals and four World Championship titles over the 10,000 metres. Haile triumphed in the Berlin Marathon four times consecutively and also had three straight wins at the Dubai Marathon. He also earned four world titles indoors and was the 2001 World Half Marathon Champion.

After the race starts, an athlete immediately catches the child's attention. It stands out from the rest. His name is heard the most among the weak voices coming from the radio. The little boy is jumping and shouting with excitement. Because that Ethiopian athlete who caught your attention is reaching for the gold medal. The athlete's name is Miruts Yifter. The name of the child whose life Yifter changed forever is:

Haile Gebrselassie…

“When I look back at my childhood, I remember that those years were full of hard work and constant hustle and bustle.”

Imagine a farm land without tractors and agricultural equipment. Everything is made by hand; A place where cows are milked by hand, wheat is sorted by hand... A place where you can run everywhere; Running to fetch water, running to school, running home... Chasing the sheep, from place to place, for exactly ten years... 2000 meters above sea level, quite far from the sea.

This is how Haile describes his life in Asella, Ethiopia. A natural training that stems from the way they live their lives... Of course, this is not only related to Haile's lifestyle, geography somehow determines the general tendencies of the people of that region. It's just that some of them are more talented. Haile's tendency to become a long-distance runner, just like Yifter and even his own brother, is the result of natural selection. However, the choice here is not Darwin, but Haile's physical education teacher.

“He thought I was a star athlete in the making. This might have been an exaggerated description, but I believed him. Because I was seeing how easily I could defeat my peers.”

Haile's rivals have changed over the years. School children are left behind. Now he would test himself against the best. Anyway, his talent did not hide itself. He loved to take over the stage whenever he got the chance. But there was one thing that remained constant: his style. He was running after medals just like he used to run to school every morning with books in his hand when he was a child.

Haile, who made his name known in the international arena for the first time at the 1992 World Junior Championship, had a long way to go. But this was also a start. He had topped both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in front of spectators in Seoul. A year later, he would take to the track in Stuttgart, this time for the world championship.

His father, who was already harsh, did not approach this career he had just started gently. He saw sports as a waste of time and thought Haile should find himself a “proper” job. However, some things would change in Stuttgart. When Haile became the world champion for the first time, the car given to him as a reward would attract his father's attention and change his perspective on sports:

“- How did you win this? By running?- Yes, by running.- Are you sure this car belongs to you?- Yes dad, believe me, this car is mine.- Well done. Keep going like that!"

While his father was easily impressed by financial rewards, Haile was not. He never made short-term calculations. He was aware that if he always pursued the best, he would not have financial difficulties in the long run. He would always go to the track with a big smile on his face and finish the race smiling no matter what.

His great fight with Paul Tergat in the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics has already taken its place among the unforgettable ones in Olympic history. Especially in Sydney 2000, Haile became the first athlete to win the 10000-meter race twice in a row after Emil Zatopek and Lasse Viren, while there was only a 0.09-second difference between him and Tergat, who came after him. This was even smaller than the difference in the finish of the 100-meter race.

Two Olympics, four world championships, four world indoor championships, one world half marathon, and two world junior championships... These are just the number of championships, a little more work is needed to count the other medals. There is no need to mention the countless records he broke. Because this would be a declaration of the obvious.