Haile Gebrselassie is probably the greatest Ethiopian athlete and possibly the world’s greatest long distance runner of all time.
One of ten children, Gebrselassie was born in Arsella, Arsi Province, a region that has produced some of Ethiopia’s famous world champions. Growing up on a farm, Gebrselassie had to run 10km each way to school and back daily. He took part in the Addis Ababa marathon without any formal training at 16, although he did not win.
His profile started rising in 1992 after winning gold medals in 5,000m and 10,000m at the World Junior Championships in Seoul. In his first season as a senior, he won the 10,000m at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart and successfully defended the title three times consecutively, winning it in Gothenburg (1995), Athens (1997), and Seville (1999).
Gebrselassie held his first world record when he broke Said Aouita’s six-year old record in the 5,000m in 1994. Over the years, he continued to dominate the tracks and even dropped down to compete in the 1,500m, setting a world record in 1997. After winning two Olympic gold medals in Atlanta (1996) and at 2000 Sydney Games, he moved into road races and the marathons in 2002.
Happily married since 1996, Gebrselassie continues to run despite being in his 40s, winning the Vienna City Half Marathon just before his 40th birthday in 2013. Later in September, he finished third at 2013 BUPA Great North Run after going toe to toe with eventual winner and compatriot, Kenenisa Bekele, and the reigning Olympic and World Champion, Mo Farah who came second.
In 1999, Gebrselassie built Addis Ababa’s first cinema that would show only locally produced Ethiopian films, despite the fact that the country had no local film industry. Although people questioned his sanity at the prospect then, it eventually gave birth to the country’s local film industry. With his wife firmly at his side, the two run Haile & Alem International PLC, and over the past two decades, the company has built three hotels, two primary schools, six office towers and a 1,500 hectares coffee plantation.
In recent times, his company began construction of a housing and condominium complex, while he also has plans to build an SUV assembly plant in Addis. The father of four announced on Twitter in July 2014 indicating his interest in running for public office. He said; “I want to be in the parliament in 2015 to help my country to move forward.”
Haile Gebrselassie lives in Addis Ababa and can be seen jogging through the Entoto area in the early mornings, before resuming at his office.
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Did you know?
- Haile Gebrselassie was born on April 18, 1973 in Arsella in Arsi Province.
- Arsi Province is famous for producing world champion athletes like Fatuma Roba, Kenenisa Bekele, Deratu Tulu and her cousins the Dibaba sisters, Tirunesh, Ejeghayehu and Genzebe.
- In June 1994, Haile ran a time of 12:56:96 in the 5,000m at Hengelo, Holland to break Moroccan Said Aouita’s six-year old world record and set a new one – his first of 27 world records.
- He returned to Hengelo the following June and set a new world record of 26:43:53 in the 10,000m; lowering the previous time by 9 seconds.
- Two months later in Zurich, he regained the 5,000m world record with a time of 12:44:39, shaving 10.91secs off the previous time of 12:55:30 set by Moses Kiptanui earlier in the year. The feat was voted Performance of the Year 1995 by Track & Field News
- His gold medal haul includes: 2 consecutive Olympic Games (1996, 2000), and 4 World Championships (1993 – 1999) in the 10,000m; 4 World Indoor Championships, 9 Golden League series wins, 5 Great Manchester Run, among several other.
- At 41, he plans to win the Great Manchester Run for the sixth time this May.
- To participate in a city marathon, his appearance fee starts from $250,000
- In 2005, Gebrselassie went undefeated in all his road races and started the following year brightly by shattering the half-marathon world record by a full 21 seconds.
- He is married to Alem and they both have three daughters: Eden, Melat and Batiy, and a son Nathan (Natty).
Afro Tourism salutes Haile Gebrselassie, a national hero, world and Olympic champion, an African legend and city icon; and wishes him all the best in his political aspirations!
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