Tributes Pour In For The Great Haile Gebrselassie

November 16, 2010

Editor's Note: received a number of tributes to Haile Gebrselassie shortly after he announced his retirement following the 2010 ING New York City marathon. Even though Gebrselassie has now unretired, we thought we'd share some of the tributes with the LRC community to show the effect Haile has had on people. Enjoy.

A Tribute To The Great Haile Gebrselassie From A College Sophomore

by Graham Shorr (a college sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University)

I have to admit, I am a bit emotional writing this - seeing one of your heroes fall isn't easy. I've dealt with failures as an athlete after countless hours and miles of training, but have never had to combat the pressures of being world class. I can only imagine how he feels ...

Only a few hours ago, Haile Gebrselassie, following his DNF in the 2010 New York City Marathon at mile 16 due to injury, announced his retirement. Citing his inability to stay healthy and desire to "not complain anymore," he will no longer race professionally. You could hear the gasps in the crowd during his press conference as he confirmed his career would "stop here." As tears begin to fall down his face and his struggle to find words increases, his disappointment is undeniable. Reporters and fans alike were heartbroken, seeing greatest athlete in the history of his sport at his most vulnerable, his mind and heart finally succumbing to his training and critics.

First off, imagine flying 18 hours on a Friday, and trying to run a marathon Sunday morning. That is what Haile did - maybe that's poor planning on his manager's part, but realize that most people would be too tired to run after that long of a flight, let alone attempt to run 26.2 miles all-out (Editor's note: Haile didn't actually fly in on Friday - he actually got to New York on Thursday).

One of Haile's main points during the press conference was how the amount of times he complains was unfair to his supporters and the other competitors. However, this only became an issue due to the widespread criticism of him "ducking" major competition. Olympic Champion with a killer instinct or not, Gebrselassie has probably been hurt by the criticism from the same journalists who once treated him like a god. Almost every professional athlete complains in one form or another. At 24 years of age, American running star Galen Rupp has skipped meets due to pollen levels and muddy cross country courses, and often refuses to share pacing duties with other competitors, preferring to sit back. Listen to almost any American runner's post-race interview (Kara Goucher comes to mind) - all you will hear are complaints. There is a fine line between complaining and wanting to improve. Shalane Flanagan said it best following her second place finish, stating, "As soon after I finished the race I started thinking about what I could have done to have won it. I think that's why the marathon is so addicting: you always want more." Haile has been constantly criticized for wanting to perform better than he has, and considering he's raced through asthma, back problems, and now knee tendinitis, it's hard to blame him for wanting to run faster.

So it appears after two Olympic Golds and 27 world records, Gebrselassie's running career will end. However, his legacy is still unwritten. He has inspired a generation of runners (me included) to run - some Americans found their inspiration from Steve Prefontaine, but I found it difficult to idolize an alcoholic frat boy who refused to listen to anyone. On the other hand, Gebrselassie is the epitome of a professional athlete - he has never taken or been suspected of performance enhancers (Alex Rodriguez, Marion Jones), sexually harassed women (Brett Favre, Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger), abandoned his family or fans (Tiger Woods, LeBron James) - he has always been loyal and given back to his community. Whatever my struggle in life, I look to Haile's success story for inspiration and perspective. His rise from a poor family in Ethiopia and running 10km to and from school and working a farm to becoming an Olympic champion make even the tallest mountains seem like bumps in the road. He has never forgotten about the impoverished Ethiopian community from which he came, and since his running accolades began piling up, has built schools, created jobs in the capital Addis Ababba, and started a mentoring program for 14 young athletes. He will likely one day run for political office, and help bring Ethiopia out of the cycle of poverty that has engulfed most of East Africa.

So if this truly is the end of Gebrselassie's career, it ought to be recognized as one of the most successful athletic careers across all sports, ever. He has transcended running for a quarter-century, and his career as a businessman and politician will undoubtedly have an equally profound impact on his community and followers.

A Note To The Great Haile Gebrselassie From A Man Who Calls Gebrselassie An Inspiration To Millions Around The World

Dear Sir,

I am sorry for the difficulty you experienced at the New York City Marathon recently. I had greatly looked forward to meeting you at the appearance you had scheduled in Washington last Monday evening. I hope to have such an opportunity at some point in the future, so I may have the honor of a handshake with the world's greatest athlete.

In the last several days, I have read that your retirement announcement might have been prompted by your belief that you had disappointed your friends and fans around the world. Those of us who understand the nature of athletic competition and have followed your remarkable career for nearly two decades know you to be a superb competitor, a gentleman, a sportsmen in every sense of the word, and an inspiration to millions around the world.  Even the greatest athletes experience setbacks and failures: it is the nature of sport. And for every athlete, the ability to compete does not last forever.

It's not for me or anyone else to express a view as to when your competitive career should end. This is a personal decision for you to make, and only you will know when the time is right. This decision should not be made on any feeling that you have disappointed anyone else. To the contrary, your performances have been absolutely thrilling, and brought a sense of wonder and joy to me and countless others. Whether you retire now, or at some point in the future, do so with a sense of pride, and do so with the knowledge that your athletic efforts have meant more to millions of fans than any of us can ever express. The world is indebted to you.

John O'Donnell
Editor's Note: John O'Donnell is a 50-ish retiree who resides in our nation's capital.

A Painting Of The Great Haile Gebrselassie From A Man Who Cried Upon Hearing The Announcement

I actually cried watching Haile's post race retirement announcement. Having the astronomical pressure of winning in New York only to get injured and have to withdraw is heartbreaking to say the least. I am also sure we have all had times where our emotions have got the better of us. It is true Hailes body can't recover as fast as it did ten years ago. Nor can he can he win against Bekele on the track but his last half marathon time of 59:33 shows that his road speed is still very much intact, and that having to drop out or a NY marathon because of an injury is only mortal. After all a marathon is not a 5K. Dropping out of New York shows that Haile is now 37 and not 27. The wise Tom Ashbrock has said that "The great Bill Rodgers - dropped out of 8 but won 22." This is only the second marathon Haile has dropped out of. He has also lowered the marathon world record to 2:04:26 and again to 2:03:59 all after thinking he was done. This tells me he is not done yet. I believe he has a chance to win in London 2012. If he stays retired he will regret not taking that chance.

Haile has been an inspiration for me as person and for my running for as long as I can remember running. Here is a painting I have made of his 2008 Berlin Marathon victory; maybe you can pass this email and jpeg to him.

Albert Wint
Editor's note: To see more paintings from Albert Wint, please see

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