Haile Gebrselassie: a Great African Athlete is Retiring

Flag of Ethiopia
Flag of Ethiopia
Haile Gebrselassie
Haile Gebrselassie

Ethiopia is known as the cradle of humanity, but also as one of the best stables for long distance runners in the world. Ethiopia has produced a lot of super stars of the long distance running, but one who stands out above all is Haile Gebrselassie, the king of the distance. As a child, I remember being glued to the TV waiting to watch Haile’s performances. It was like watching a maestro at work. I loved seeing him run the whole 9600 m, then sprint through the last 200-400 m like he had just started the race. Gebrselassie has inspired me, and thousands of youths to run. We have all dreamed of running the distance the way he ran.

Haile Gebrselassie, of Ethiopia, defeating Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10000 m run at the Sydney 2000 Olympics
Haile Gebrselassie, of Ethiopia, defeating Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10000 m run at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in a historic finish.

So it is with sadness that I learnt of Gebrselassie’s retirement from competitive running. I am delighted to have had a chance to see him in his prime years, and watch him transition from 10000 m to marathon running, and there still express perfection. Truly, everything he did in his running was done with perfection, striving to be the very best every stride he took, and that is the message to everyone out there: strive for perfection, strive to do the very best you can in everything you do, every single day.  To that effect, Gebrselassie said: “You need three things to win: discipline, hard work, and, before everything commitment. No one will make it without those three, sport teaches you that;” and “When you run the marathon, you run against the distance, not against the other runners, and not against time.” I am leaving you with the article I wrote three years ago about him, and with this great video on some of his accomplishments.

 

 

Mozambique’s First Gold Medal, and World Greatest 800m Runner: Maria Mutola

Maria Mutola winning gold in Sydney
Maria Mutola winning gold in Sydney

With the olympics fast approaching, I have decided to feature one African athlete per week to keep us in Olympics mood. Today, I would like to talk about an athlete hailing from Mozambique: Maria Mutola.

Maria de Lurdes Mutola was born in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and was running so fast that she was nicknamed ‘The Maputo Express’.  She specialized in 800 m, and is the 4th athlete to have competed in 6 olympic games (imagine that: the olympic games happen every 4 years… thus it took a total of 24 years of intense competition at the highest level, as a world class athlete).  As a young girl, she excelled in football(soccer), and played with boys.  Later on, she was encouraged by the great

Maria Mutola defeating Kelly Holmes at World Championships
Maria Mutola defeating Kelly Holmes at World Championships

Mozambican writer Jose Craveirinha to pursue track and field.  Her very first olympic was in 1988 at the Seoul Games, at the age of 15.  She finished last, but this made her even stronger.  After that, she dominated the 800 m distance, winning the gold medal at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in 1993 and 1995, and the Stuttgart 1993 IAAF World Championships.  She won the bronze medal in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympic games, and finally won a sweet Gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.  Mutola retired from track and field at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she sadly finished 5th, after being in contention for a medal.  Mutola is often ranked as the greatest female 800 m runner of all time, since her consistency, her record at major championships and her ability to compete at the highest levels of the sport for well over a decade are unmatched.

Maria Mutola raising the flag of Mozambique
Maria Mutola raising the flag of Mozambique

As a sports fan, I watched Maria at the 1995 World indoor games in Barcelona.  The year 2000 was so special, as we all saw Maria finally lift the Olympic gold medal for Mozambique, at the Sydney games.  In 2003, she became the sole winner of the IAAF $1million Golden league title, for being undefeated throughout that year at all major competitions.  I have always been a big fan of hers, even though I always thought that she had too much of a ‘male’ physique.  With that physique, she ran with power and grace, and raised the flag of Mozambique with pride.  Greatness to you Maria, you’ve made us proud!

Running the Distance, Running for Greatness: Haile Gebrselassie

Haile Gebrselassie
Haile Gebrselassie

Last night I thought about writing a piece on the greatest long-distance runner of all times, the great Haile Gebrselassie.  My interest for Track and field (athletism) has always been big, but my interest for 10,000 m was awaken by Haile Gebrselassie running 10,000 m and taking the gold medal at the 1995 Gothenburg games.  This great athlete hails from Ethiopia and has redefined what it means to run 10,000 m.  He is a long-distance track and road running athlete. Imagine someone who has just run 9600 m, and still has the power to accelerate and sprint through the next 200-400 m as if he was Michael Johnson or Usain Bolt?  If you can imagine this, you have imagined Haile Gebrselassie!  I have enjoyed watching him run with grace, poise, endurance, and strength. I once read that he would train by running 30 km every day, and I thought to myself, no wonder he is a 2-time Gold olympic winner (1996 Atlanta, and 2000 Sydney), 4-times world championship winner, 4-times consecutive Berlin marathon winner, 3-times consecutive Dubai marathon winner (not sure how one could run in Dubai’s heat), broke 61 records in Ethiopia, and 27 world records, and is greatly considered the world’s greatest distance runner in history. He has broken his own record several times, and is a true inspiration to many. He starred as himself in the 1999 movie Endurance.

Haile Gebrselassie, of Ethiopia, defeating Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10000 m run at the Sydney 2000 Olympics
Haile Gebrselassie, of Ethiopia, defeating Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10000 m run at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in a historic finish.

I dream of running a 10000 m race one day, just like Haile…  Imagine a non-runner inspired to run?  Yes… that’s being influenced by the greatest of all, Haile Gebrselassie… So many of us in Africa owe to this man who started running 10 km to go to school back when he was just a child; this man from a poor background, who went through all odds to reach the summit.  The current gold olympic title holder is Kenenisa Bekele, a fellow Ethiopian, and a protégé of Haile.  A whole generation of Ethiopian long-distance runners, and African runners, and kids like me, have been inspired by this athlete who is running the distance for greatness (He gave his first gold medal to his church to thank God for his talent).  All praise to the greatest of all: Haile Gebrselassie.  I had hoped to see him at the London 2012 olympic games this summer, but just learnt that he would not be there.  Although I feel sad, I am just grateful that we will be watching Kenenisa Bekele, and many others who have all been inspired by the greatest of all, Haile Gebrselassie.