Haile Gebreselassie, the world renowned retired track and road running athlete, is widely considered as the greatest distance runner in history, with 27 world records. Here are some facts about the Ethiopian long-distance runner:
He was born Haile Gebrselassie, on April 18, 1973, in Asella, Arsi Province, Ethiopia. He was one of ten children to his parents. He has five brothers and four sisters.
The circumstances in his life made him an athlete. He used to run barefoot 10 kms to school every day. Running was his passion even as young boy, trying do things faster.
Haile was inspired by Miruts Yifter winning the 5,000 and 10,000 meters gold medal at 1980 Moscow Olympics and was encouraged by his brother to join him in his training, when his father discouraged.
He believed in his ability, when he won the 1,500 meters at his school meet. He was the youngest and led the group of runners from the start to finish.
He won his first official race aged eight, ran his first marathon at 15 and went on to represent his region and then the national team. He was discovered at 18 by the Dutch former long distance runner Jos Hermens, who remains his coach and agent.
His breakthrough on the international scene came in 1992 when he won the 5,000m and 10,000m race at ‘World Junior Championship’ in Seoul. He won both the race with new championship time.
He trains seven days a week and goes to Church once a month. Sunday is a normal working day for him. He wakes-up at 5 a.m. and train for two hours in the morning session at Entoto Mountains and spends the evening at gym.
In 1993, as a 20 year old, he won his first of many World Outdoor Championship titles in 10,000m. At 1993 World Championship race, he accidentally stepped on the heel of Moses Tanui’s shoe at the bell. Angered and with one shoe Tanui took 10m lead, only for Haile to run him down on the final straight. He also won silver in the 5,000m at the championship.
He denies claims that he is a vegetarian and says injera, a large spongy pancake made of teff flour is his favorite.
In 1996, he married Alem Gebrselassie and resides at Addis Ababa, with his four children. He has three daughters and a son.
On June 04, 1994, Haile set his first world record in 5,000m with a time of 12:56.96, at a meet in Hengelo, Netherlands. He bettered the record of Said Aouita by two seconds.
His performances at the ‘Weltklasse Zurich,’ track and field meet in August 1995, was voted ‘Performance of the Year’ by Track & Field News magazine. He ran the 5,000m in 12:44.39, taking 10.91 seconds of the world record set by Moses Kiptanui of Kenya.
On July 29, 1996, he won the 10,000m finals at the ‘Atlanta Olympics with a time of 27:07.34, well below his personal and world record time. It is his first Olympic gold medal. Although he qualified to represent in the 5,000m, he did not participate in the event.
He started dominating both indoor and outdoor meet. He set a new record in 3000m with a time of 7:26.15, at Karlsruhe, Germany, in January 1998. A month later on February 15, he set another record in 2000m with a time of 4:52.86, in a meet at Birmingham, UK.
He set a world record of 26:22.75, in the 10,000 m breaking Tergat’s record on June 01, 1998 at Hengelo, Netherlands. Later Haile won Golden League jackpot for winning all of his seven races in 3000m and 5000m, in the Golden League series that summer.
In 1999, he starred in the film ‘Endurance’ as himself. The film was about his upbringing and his subsequent triumph at the Olympics. The film was produced by Walt Disney Pictures.
He became the third man in history to successfully defend his 10,000m gold medal when he defeated Paul Tergat at 2000 Sidney Olympics. The race was contested in the final 200m with 0.09 seconds being the victory margin.
In between his dominance in the 5,000m and 10,000m, he also participated in the Marathons. Haile won the 2001 World Half Marathon, at Bristol, England, on October 07.
In 2000, working with Peter Middlebrook and AbiMasefiled, Haile conceptualized 10 kilometer ‘Great Ethiopian Run.’ This road run is held annually in late November.
He ran one of the most remarkable 10,000m race on August 24, 2003, at World Championship in Athletics in Paris. Haile lost the race to his country man, 21 year old Kenenisa Bekele, in which second half of the race was run in staggering 12:57.24.
After failing to win a medal at 2004 Olympics, he started to concentrate on road racing. He made his marathon debut at London in 2002. He set a fast pace within world record time before finishing third with time of 2:06.35.
In 2005, he went undefeated in all of his road races. He won the 10 km Manchester, Amsterdam Marathon and a new world best for 10 miles in ‘Tilburg Ten Miles’ race.
Haile broke the world half marathon record by a full 21 seconds, recording a time of 58 minutes and 55 seconds on January 15, 2006, at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon. He lost the London Marathon in April that year before going on win the Berlin and Fukuoka Marathon.
On August 05, 2007, he made his debut at New York City Half Marathon, to win in 59:24, breaking the previous record by 2 minutes. He went on to win the Berlin Marathon on September 30, 2007, in a time of 2:04.26, in process bettering the previous record by 29 seconds.
On November 07, after dropping out of the 2010 New York City Marathon with inflamed knee, he announced his retirement. But days later he regretted his decision and was hoping to run in the 2012 London Olympics.
Returning from self-imposed retirement, he won his first race in Angola, a 10k road race with a new course record of 28:05. He went on to win the ‘Vienna City’ Half Marathon, on April 17 and a month later Haile won the Great Manchester Run, England for the fourth time, finishing in 28:10.
Although he did not qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, he participated in the opening ceremony as one of the eight flag bearers who brought the Olympic flag into the stadium.
On April 14, 2013, he won the open field of the Vienna City half marathon with a time of 01:01.14. Later that year on September 15, he finished third in the ‘BUPA Great North Run’ losing to reigning Olympic and world champion Mo Farah.
He announced his retirement from competitive running for good this time, after finishing 16th in the Great Manchester Run on May 10, 2015. He is currently the president of the ‘Ethiopian Athletics Federation.’
Haile in his 25 years career has claimed two Olympic gold medals, eight world championship victories and set 27 world records. He was quoted as saying ‘I’m retiring from competitive running, not from running.’