After a very successful quarter century in competitive running, Haile Gebrselassie announced his retirement recently. We are sad to see such a prolific runner and an icon for marathon aspirants the world over hanging up his running shoes. But Gebrselassie will always remain an inspiration for his work on and off the track.

In his 25-year career, Gebrselassie won 2 Olympic Gold medals, 8 World Championship victories and set 27 world records. In 1993, Gebrselassie was a 20 year old when he won his first World Championship gold medal in Stuttgart. Right after that he won 4 consecutive World Championships.

His most famous win was when he stepped on Kenyan runner Moses Tanui’s shoe in the final lap and his shoe came flying off. He completed the race with one shoe. Such was his dedication to the sport and running.

In fact like many other African runners, Gebrselassie had a tough upbringing and the struggles made him a more competitive man in his athletics career. Growing up in the Oromia Region in Ethiopia, a young Gebrselassie used to run 10km to school every morning, and run the same route back every evening. Of course, without the facilities that are afforded to school kids in other parts, Gebrselassie had to also lug his books on these runs. As a result, you can see a cocked posture even when he’s running now, with his left arm crooked as if still holding those books.

Pipped at the finish line by Haile Gebrselassie at the Olympics (Image: IOA)
Haile Gebrselassie wins the gold at the Olympics (Image: IOA)

In 1995, in the Netherlands he set a world record for 10,000 meters by running it 9 seconds faster (he completed it in 26 minutes, 43.53 seconds). Gebrselassie’s first Olympic Gold was in 1996, in the 10,000 race. He completed this in 27 minutes, 7.34 seconds, thereby setting a new Olympic record, and starting a rivalry with Kenyan runner Paul Tergat. Anyone who wants to see how he developed his art should watch the movie Endurance, the 1999 film where he starred as himself. The film depicted his efforts to win the Olympic gold in the 10,000 metres event.

In 2004, Gebrselassie left the track to focus on marathons and won the Berlin marathon 4 times in a row, the Dubai marathon 3 consecutive times and set a new marathon world record in 2009 of two hours and 3.59 seconds.

Gebrselassie is an inspiration to runners all around the world and it has been a pleasure to watch him claim victory after victory. Gebrselassie announced his retirement from competitive running in May this year. During his announcement he said, “I’m retiring from competitive running, not from running. You cannot stop running, this is my life,” he is quoted as saying in BBC Sport. And run, he shall!

Main image: Wolfgang H. Wögerer

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