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Ethiopian distance legend toys with running Two Oceans
- Updated: April 4, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
Arguably the most complete distance runner to grace the global athletics scene, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie has not ruled out ticking yet another box… on South African soil.
The adidas sports brand ambassador was in Cape Town to attend the iconic Old Mutual Two Oceans ultra-marathon around the peninsula on Saturday morning.
Before the race he took time out to reflect on his past and gaze into the future.
He’s had international wins from distances ranging between 1500m on the track and 42.2 kilometres on the road, and boasts two Olympic gold medals, eight world championship gold medals and set 27 world records across the athletics spectrum.
‘I’m definitely taking time to have a look at the Two Oceans ultra-marathon while I’m here,’ said the 41-year-old with his trademark toothy grin. He celebrates his 42nd birthday later this month.
‘It’s not that much longer than a marathon, only 14km which should be easy enough to cover. I reckon I’d definitely finish in three hours something. But as you can see I’m not that well prepared right now, I’ve put on 3kg since my competitive days.
‘It’s a very unique distance and race, Two Oceans but we’ll just have to see in future years.’
Looking back to his early years and Gebrselassie said his father had initially frowned on his son’s running. ‘He said I must rather concentrate on my studies. He started taking it seriously when I won the world 10,000m title in Stuttgart in 1983. I won a car but he wouldn’t believe it. “A car – for running?”. He just couldn’t believe it.
‘But when the car finally arrived in Addis Ababa three months later then he realised how serious it was! He watched a video of the race and marvelled at how nice people could be to give a car to people who do nothing but running!’
Sponsored by adidas since 1992, Gebrselassie’s first pair of running shoes were donated by his older brother.
‘Over the years it’s nothing short of amazing how the technology of shoes has evolved completely.’
Asked to try and explain the dominance of East Africans on the road running scene, Gebrselassie said it wasn’t one particular thing.
‘It’s really a combination. I think it has to be your place of birth, how your grow up, your culture etc. Remember that most of East African runners come from areas of 1500m above sea level and many places in Ethiopia are 2500m above sea level.
‘Also, all the world class Ethiopian runners come from the countryside and not the cities so there are no junk food distractions and the lifestyle is simple.
‘And there’s a lot of identity in the various villages. People see someone from one village doing well and they say I want to be just as good as that guy in my village so there is lots of rivalry.’
Gebrselassie went back to the Two Oceans attraction as he wrapped up. ‘Two Oceans and even Comrades would be lovely to add to my collection. I’m afraid though… 56km is very different and we’d need special training to adapt for that distance.’
Scared is also something that his rivals would be should a fully fit Gebrselassie finally turn his attention to Two Oceans and beyond in the next few year.
Picture of Gebrselassie running the International Friendship run at Cape Town’s Waterfront on Friday courtesy of Magna Carta