13 May

Haile's Last Stand

HaileAnd so it ended: Haile Gebrselassie’s participation at Sunday’s Great Manchester Run will stand as his final competitive outing. His retirement heralds the conclusion to a career that has spanned almost a quarter of a century, resulted in numerous world records and provided the running community with a lovable, accessible and enduring icon. 

The significance of Gebrselassie’s career can be read, firstly, in the numerous world records he has set: 20 in total, including nine world titles and a further 61 Ethiopian national records. By 1995, at the age of 22, Gebrselassie had lowered both the 10,000m and 5,000m world records, performances that he would go on to surpass with PBs of 26:22:75 and 12:39:36 over the distance.

For many, Gebrelassie’s duel with Paul Tergat, which stretched over two consecutive Olympic Games, will represent the Ethiopian’s most enduring moments. In 1996, Gebrselassie’s crowned his debut on the Olympic stage with victory, leaving Tergat in his wake with a convincing victory. Four years later, Gebreslassie and Tergat met again in Sydney. Paul Tergat led going into the home straight only to see the lithe frame of Gebrselassie once again edge past him.  

Brendan Foster commented at the end of the race, quite presciently, that the Ethiopian 'doesn’t know how to lose 10,000m' and so it proved. Leaving the track, Gebrselassie made the smooth transition to longer distances and, in 2008, at the age of 35, he became the first ever athlete to run a sub 2:04 marathon, finishing in 2:03:59 (and breaking his own previous world record by 27 seconds in the process).

Yet Gebrselassie’s impact stretches beyond his accumulation of successive victories: for many, his abiding presence in the racing circuit has provided the sport with a likeable and engaging figurehead. Since taking a step away from competitive racing, he has been pioneered the emergence of the Great Ethiopian Run, an event which has become heavily influential in working with NGOs across the country. A future career in politics has long been muted.

Sunday’s run in Manchester, where he finished in 16th position and saw his over-40s Masters record surpassed by Bernard Lagat, may not have been the resounding platform to conclude such a prolific career. In many ways, however it was an apt and understated manner on which to bow out:  when he had finished competing in the elite field, he joined the masses to tackle the 10k once more: an act which will no doubt have been the race highlight for the recreational runners, fundraisers and first-timers who were presented with the opportunity to run alongside him.  

After the race, he commented: “I will retire as a competitive runner, not as a runner, I will never stop running and will continue to be a running ambassador.”