Sports

Shock after Shock

Haile Gebrselassie drops out of New York Marathon with an injury, announces his retirement, and then has second thoughts.

by Barry Hillenbrand

Haile in a pensive - and confused - state after the race

THIS MONTH’S NEW YORK MARATHON was an important event for Haile Gebrselassie. It was his opportunity, as George Hirsch, the chairman of the New York Road Runners, told the New York Times, to drop the “arguably” from his title as “arguably the world’s greatest distance runner.” Indeed just before the race Haile, a broad smile on his face, told a news conference: “I planned this for many years. If you run the marathon, how can you stop running without running New York?” He was the most decorated and accomplished runner to enter the New York Marathon. In 2007, he set the world record for the marathon in Berlin and then the following year he shaved the record by 27 seconds to 2:03:59. The record still stands. He has Olympic gold medals for the 10,000m. He has never won the Olympic marathon medal, having skipped Beijing in 2008 because he feared — incorrectly — that the city’s famed pollution would aggravate his asthma. He now regrets his decision and was planning to run in the 2012 London Olympics.

At 37, however, Haile Gebrselassie is getting old even for a distance runner. He dropped out of several races and did poorly in the Beijing Olympics in shorter distances. But this year he won the Dubai Open and a half marathon in Britian, the sort of unofficial championship, at an impressive 59:53. He was not washed up yet.

Haile, in the middle, pounding the streets of New York

And so, with great expectations riding on his thin his shoulders, (for pre-race stories see: http://bit.ly/by2zfk , http://bit.ly/dz8lU7) Haile Gebrselassie took off with 43,000 other marathoners to conquer the hills and bridges of New York and add an important title to his long list of victories.

He did not finish. Near the 16 mile marker of the race, Haile Gebrselassie slowed and pulled up. His right knee was causing him trouble and he could not continue. Even more shocking is that when he came to the press podium later, Haile Gebrselassie had tears in his eyes and said that his career in competitive running was over. Said he: ““I never think about retiring,” he said. “For the first time, this is the day. Let me stop and do other work after this. Let me do other jobs. Let me give a chance for the youngsters.” After two decades it was over. “I don’t want to complain anymore after this,” he said. “Which means it’s better to stop here.” For more see: http://nyti.ms/bm9jvk

Ethiopia and much of the running community was in shock and denial. Ian Chadband in the Daily Telegraph of London urged Haile to reconsider his decision. Please think about it, said the Telegraph. (See: http://bit.ly/9oXIFl). Some news organizations reported that Haile was pressured by the government to return to competition, a story Haile angrily denied. (See: http://bit.ly/erUOhv) But unquestionably Ethiopia was saddened and disturbed at the thought of their hero no longer running. Unlike the famed famed Abebe Bikile, who after winning the 1960 Olympic marathon sadly declined into a life of drink, Haile worked hard at keeping his reputation doing good works — and not a little profitable business — back in Ethiopia. After a few days off and a return to Ethiopia, Haile did give his retirement some thought. He changed his mind and announced that he would continue to run. Reuters reported that his manager and coach said that Haile had returned to training and would most likely prepare for London in 2012. (See: http://bit.ly/9bA2Ac). The saga never ends. (For a full report from Ethiopia’s excellent Fortune magazine see: http://bit.ly/gy7TEt)

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