Gebrselassie craves return to gold standard

Ethiopian 'Emperor' of middle-distance running is hoping to make giant strides at Crystal Palace
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ethiopia's most famous son was late arriving at the embassy in Hyde Park yesterday. Ushered in under the flag which he has brandished in triumph on the running tracks of the world over the past 10 years, Haile Gebrselassie - for it was he - experienced a sudden gust of wind and rain. Even for the man they call the Emperor, it does not always shine.

Ethiopia's most famous son was late arriving at the embassy in Hyde Park yesterday. Ushered in under the flag which he has brandished in triumph on the running tracks of the world over the past 10 years, Haile Gebrselassie - for it was he - experienced a sudden gust of wind and rain. Even for the man they call the Emperor, it does not always shine.

But the unseasonal weather - which organisers of Saturday's Norwich Union British Grand Prix fervently predict will have improved before the middle distance legend sets foot on the Crystal Palace tartan for the 5,000 metres - is nothing to Gebrselassie, who has recently recovered from a nose-to-nose experience of the condition he most fears, namely life without running.

After winning his fourth consecutive world 10,000m title in Seville last August, the Ethiopian began to be troubled by an Achilles tendon problem which grew in severity to the point where he was forced to miss training for three months. For a man who had not experienced any serious injury since he began running, it was a time of trial.

If there is ever a sequel to the film Endurance, the life story of Haile Gebrselassie, then the period between September and December when the Olympic champion was reduced to a restless non-runner, prowling about his home in Addis Ababa would feature strongly. "It was a really bad time for me," Gebrselassie said. "I couldn't run until the beginning of January. I'd put on four kilos because I was just eating. It was a very, very bad moment for me. I could not sleep because I needed to move, to practice. It was not easy to live my life without running."

Until he obtained the necessary treatment at a Munich clinic, Gebrselassie was troubled on more than one occasion by the thought that he would not be able to defend the Olympic 10,000m title he won in Atlanta in 1996.

That would have been a particularly harsh outcome for a man who, despite his giddying achievements in the sport - he has broken 15 world records - retained a sense of awe over the idea of competing in the Olympic Games. He agreed yesterday with the recent statement by the pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka that one Olympic gold was not enough. "Yes, definitely," Gebrselassie said. "The World Championship is not equal to the Olympics. The Olympics are very special because they come round only once every four years."

It is 20 years since the seven-year-old Haile "borrowed" his father's radio - despite dire warnings about the consequences - and sat in a mud hut listening to the reports of fellow Ethiopian Miruts Yister's 5,000/10,000m double at the Moscow Olympics.

For many years it was Gebrselassie's ambition to emulate that achievement but, although he holds the world record for 5,000m, he has forgone the opportunity of completing a double in Sydney later this year in order, he says, to let his younger compatriots show what they are capable of.

Thereafter he will concentrate on marathon running. "Then people will be able to see me without paying for a ticket," he said with a twinkle. For those who have paid to watch this phenomenon at Crystal Palace on Saturday, however, the spectacle should be one to treasure.

* Linford Christie, Doug Walker and Gary Cadogan will have their doping cases - all tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone - heard by an International Amateur Athletic Federation arbitration panel on 14 August.

Comments