Haile Gebrselassie is an Ethiopian retired athlete considered one of the greatest long-distance runners of all time in the world. He runs ranging from 800 meters to Marathon, indoor, outdoor, and cross country, and road running in the latter years of his career. He broke 61 national records and set 27 world records. He is a two-times Olympic gold medalist, four times world champion, and four times world indoor champion. In 2008, at the age of 35, he broke his marathon record by 27 seconds at the Berlin Marathon. The record stood unchallenged for three years, and because he was above 35 years old at the time, the record still stands as the master age group world record. He is considered by many as a pioneer and a hero by many. Haile is also a successful businessman. He owns a chain of resort hotels and other businesses in Ethiopia.
Haile Gebrselassie was born in Oromia, Assela, Arisi, on 18 April 1973 to a farming family. He is the 10th child of his family. Haile started running at an early age because he was attending a school 10-kilometers away from home. He runs the 10 kilometers to school every day, barefoot, and he did the same to get back to his home from school. When not at school, he looked after the cows and sheep and helped his father on the farm. The family had limited resources, and everyone had to work and support the family. At the age of only seven during the Moscow Olympics Haile heard on the radio about the victory of another Ethiopian champion, Mirtus Yefter, who became an Olympic gold medalist in the 10,000 meters race. He was inspired by that and dreamt to become a gold medalist himself one day. Haile says that was the monument he realized running could help him do great things in his life. Following the footsteps of his older brother, Haile joined the school athletics team. Though his father was resistant to his sons becoming runners, believing it was a waste of time, Haile was determined to become a champion and follow the paths of great Ethiopian athletes like Abebe Bikila and Mirtus Yefter.
The first monument Haile realized that he is a gifted runner came when he was still in elementary school. He won five kilometers run in his school, competing with boys a lot older than him. No one expected him to win that race and was advised to drop out. Haile says winning that particular race gave him the confidence and assurance that he can go a long way as an athlete.
In 1992, Haile gained international recognition when he won the 5000 and 10,000-meter races at the 1992 World Junior Championship in Seoul, South Korea. The same year he won a silver medal at the World Cross Country Championship held in Boston, USA. From 1993-1999, he won the world championship consecutively. In 1995, he broke both the 10,000 and 5000 world records. His performance that year was voted as ‘Performance of the Year’ by Track and Field News Magazine. In 1996, Haile won his first Olympic gold medal in Atlanta Olympics, making his childhood dreams a reality.
The year 1998 could be considered one of the most successful years for Haile. He broke the 2000 and 3000 indoor competition world records, took back his 10,000 and 5000 meters world records, and shared the Golden League Jackpot by winning all the races that summer. In 1999, Haile starred in the movie, Endurance as himself. The movie narrates his struggle, strength, and determination to become one of the greatest athletes of the time and his quest to become a gold medalist at the Atlanta Olympics. In the same year, Haile won in all the races he took part in and defended his records proving that he is unbeatable. He also won all of his races in 2000 and became a gold medalist at the Sydney Olympics, defending his championship in 10,000 meters. That makes him the third person in history, to defend a 10,000 meters win consecutively at the Olympics.
In the 2004 Athens Olympics, Haile sought to become the first athlete in the world to win three gold medals in three straight Olympics, in 10,000 meters. He finished fifth in a race won by another great Ethiopian, Kenenisa Bekele.
Haile then left the track and focused on the road run, the Marathon. He won the Amsterdam marathon in 2005, Berlin, 2006, Fukuoka 2006, and in Berlin 2007 where he broke the marathon record. He continued to win Dubai Marathon in 2009, Berlin in 2009, and Dubai again in 2010. Haile announced retirement in 2010, after dropping out of the New York City Marathon with an inflamed knee. However, just after a few days after, he wrote on his Twitter account he is reconsidering his decision to retire and might run the Marathon in the 2012 London Olympics. He then returned to the race, winning the half marathon in Vienna city and the Great Manchester Run in England in 2011. However, in the same year, at the Berlin Marathon, Haile faced another setback, dropping out of the race, and saw his marathon record broken by Patrick Makau. He also failed to make it to the Ethiopian national team for the 2012 London Olympics.
Haile’s 25 years long-running career ended with retirement in 2015 after he finished 16th in the Great Manchester Run.
Haile is close to athletics and was the president of the Ethiopian Athletics’ Federation. He resigned in November 2018 after two years of serving. He also established the Ethiopian Great Run in 2001, an annual highly celebrated 10 kilometers run in Addis Ababa, where thousands of people and athletes run every year.
Currently, Haile runs several businesses in Ethiopia under the company name of Haile & Alem International PLC. The business includes a chain of resort hotels in different parts of the country, coffee farms, and honey export, automotive, and real state.
Haile got married in 1996, to his wife Alem, in 1996. They have four children together, three daughters and a son. Haile and his family live in Add