But little Haile was not walking there at school. He ran. He always ran. His feet were barefoot and the land arid, a mixture of sand and dirt. The air was almost unbreathable because of the heat. In class, however, there were no signs of fatigue on Haile's face. Sure, he was tired, dusty and thirsty. But the first thing that came to his classmates, and teachers, was his smile.
"Try it, what is a kilometre and a half to you?" Tayeke, the elder brother who was with him, told him. It was a breeze. As a prize, he received five birr, almost half a euro. It was at that moment that something was triggered in his head: the race to get out of poverty, out of misery, running to help his family.
Although his father wanted him with him on the farm, at 16 years old he decided to train in the police force: it is the first step that will lead Haile Gebrselassie to become the Usain Bolt of the middle ground and marathon, shattering all the records possible and imaginable.
He did so in the golden age of Kenyan cross-country skiers, considered the strongest ever and the opponents to beat. "Gebre against all", seems the title of a film but in essence that's how his career went, even if the challenge, the real one, was especially the one with himself. His aim was to defeat all and improve continuously. The day he set a new record in the ten thousand metres, he seemed disappointed. They asked him why:
"I was distracted - I'm sure I left at least three or four seconds on the road". Despite having just put his signature on a new record, he was not happy. His perfectionist nature caused him to become very demanding on himself. Despite this, his smile never left him, the same he had as a child, when he arrived at school after having raced for ten kilometres.
"I smile because I am a sportsman. Sport was born to make people happy. When I race, when I run, people are happy to see me and I am happy for that".
"At that moment something was triggered in his head: the race to get out of poverty, out of misery, running to help his family".
Forrest? No, Gebre
The retreat made in his own way
In the name of Nelson
His point of reference? The only one possible: Nelson Mandela, became his example to follow and imitate. In 2016 Gebre became president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. "I want to take care of the athletes, I want to make everything that is needed available to them,” he told Eurosport a few days after his election. And his views on doping? A cancer to be eradicated, a long and complex job. We said that Nelson Mandela was a model to be imitated. To the end. Because there are those who foresee for the former Ethiopian athlete a candidacy as the next president of his country. "Now I'm working on sport. And in sport, as I see it, there is no politics. I will finish my 4 years in office, and then we will think about it”.
“Gebrselassie is coming”
There is a new sheriff in town. He has an easy smile, a low hand in his gait (remember the books?) and the race in his blood. Kenya is being warned. In 1993 the first gold in the world, always in the ten thousand metres, he arrived in Stuttgart. He's still 20 years old but his is a veteran tactic. He glues to the then world champion Moses Tanui, obviously Kenyan. From the start, he feels his breath on his neck. There is very little space between the two. So close are they that on the last lap there is a contact between the right foot of the pursuer and the left foot of the driver. Tanui loses his shoe. Gebre’s overtaking was close to the finish line. As in Seoul. The Kenyan athlete asks for Gebre’s disqualification but for the judges it was only an accident.
He won gold on gold in the 1,500, 3,000 and of course his beloved ten thousand metres and he would repeat the same feat in Sydney four years later, burning his friend Paul Tergat, Kenyan, and one of his greatest opponents by 0.09 seconds. The Australian commentator, who on the last lap just repeated: "Gebrselassie is coming!" Between 1996 and 2000 he took part in the seven most important mid-fund competitions and won them all. The bronze of the 2001 World Cup in Canada is a sign of a career that will inevitably decline. But he has time to win his first half marathon world championship in Bristol and the 3,000 indoors in Birmingham. He tries to enter the history of athletics: no one has ever won three Olympics in a row in the ten thousand meters.
He can't do it either, he comes fifth in Athens, thanks to a problem with the tendons that forces him to skip the last three weeks of training. The appointment with history is only postponed.
King of marathons
Gebre training method
In the head of Gebreselassie
Learning how to manage it and not to suffer it is an important aspect. How? "With training, of course. But even without exaggerating effort in the first kilometres, causing damage to the legs and muscles. Gastone continues: "Above all, and this applies to everyone, we must know what we are worth. Because at the beginning you feel good, trained, rested. We don't think about the after, but by doing so we arrive in the suffering stage much faster". Rest on Friday and run on Saturday for the amateur, reduce a little the 'kilometres distance for professionals, is the advice on how to train the last days before a Sunday race. That you win by breathing, with your muscles. But above all, with the head. Just as Gebre did: "The curiosity - adds Gastone- is that all the champions manage to cover the second part of the marathon slightly faster than the first".
"You can always do something, even if you come from the poorest corner of Africa"
"You can always do something, even if you come from the poorest corner of Africa”.