Haile Gebrselassie is undoubtedly one of the greatest distance runners in history. The Ethiopian talks to Ato Boldon for the first episode of season five of IAAF Inside Athletics.
Last year marked an important change in the career of two-time Olympic and four-time world 10,000m champion Haile Gebrselassie. The runner took on a whole new challenge away from the track that saw him elected president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation.
The process of becoming a candidate was “a bit strange”, he admits. Just like running, the race for the presidency was a “tactical” affair – and just like so many times during his career on the track and the roads, Gebrselassie came out on top.
His decision to get involved in the running of the sport in his country came on the back of the 2016 Olympics. At London 2012 the Ethiopian anthem was heard around the Olympic stadium three times, in Beijing 2008 even four times.
“Rio was not a good year for Ethiopian athletics. We came back with only one gold [medal],” he tells Ato Boldon.
Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana, however, produced one of the Games' standout moments. Her 10,000m gold came wrapped in a world record shaped parcel, a big “surprise” for Gebrselassie.
“My expectation was not a world record,” he says. “I knew Almaz Ayana could win the race, but you didn’t expect her to also break the world record.”
Now in charge and eager to create more golden memories for Ethiopian athletics, the 43-year-old has vowed to tackle one of the biggest problems for his athletes: air pollution.
“Most of our athletes they train in the city,” he explains.
“The city Addis Ababa is getting polluted and so I am trying to bring out all the athletes to train outside [of the city] and at the same time to bring up all those youngsters who are following the footsteps of myself and all the others.”
When he talks about up and coming athletes following in his footsteps, he thinks beyond the traditional events Ethiopia has excelled in over the years. Nations like Kenya have seen a wave of success in more unusual events – such as the 400m hurdles and the javelin – in recent years, and Gebrselassie is convinced Ethiopia has its own host of untapped talent.
“Long jumpers,” he boldly proclaims. “To jump 8 metres, we can find someone.”
To find out why he believes Ethiopian athletes could dominate the world’s sandpits in the not so distant future and what he thinks about the possibility of a sub-2-hour marathon, watch the full episode below.