If Haile Gebrselassie was peeved at being upstaged by a couple of in-form Kenyans in the Marathon Singapore 10k last Sunday, he soon retrieved his equanimity, and was mulling over at least, “one more marathon,” before retiring to the celebrity circuit, and a leap into national politics.
He admits to 41, though many, even in Ethiopia believe he may be up to three or four years older; which makes his achievements even more extraordinary. He has already enjoyed the longest international career – 23 years so far – at the top of the most punishing of pursuits, long distance running.
And there was a nice coincidence in meeting up in Singapore with Steve Moneghetti. The Aussie marathon ace was working on the TV production of Marathon Singapore; but he was the man who deprived Geb and his colleagues of victory in Geb’s first ever international trip, to an Ekiden (relay) in Japan, in 1991. “We lost that race, because of him,” related Geb. “We were leading by far, from the Australians, and the last leg was 12k. Steve Moneghetti came from far behind, and he caught our guy just in the stadium at the end; and we lost”.
Gebrselassie returned to Asia to following year, to win a double, 5000/10,000 metres, at the World Junior Championships, in Seoul, S Korea. And a legend was born. Two Olympic golds, eight world titles, indoors and out, and close to 30 world records, including the first sub-2.04 marathon, later, and the legend continues.
“I’m thinking to run another marathon, just to check myself,” he said, before leaving Singapore. “For the time being, I’m fine. I’ve been enjoying a rest, doing some business. I’m not training so much, not so hard. Of course, I train every day, mostly twice, unless I’m really busy, and I skip the second one. I don’t know where (marathon) at the moment, but something at the end of May, or Berlin (late September), just for myself. The problem is everybody expects me to be in front, so it’s not easy. They know Haile Gebrselassie is a front runner, and if they don’t see you at the front…..?
“But first I have to prepare. In this condition (now), it’s impossible to run a marathon. I’m training one hour, 30 minutes maximum, because of my business schedule. I have to be in the office by eight, until 5.30-6pm. But the good thing, the gym is in the basement, so if I only have a few minutes between six and seven, I just do a gym session”.
Business, by the way, includes 1500 employees, a car dealership, a cinema circuit, a hotel complex, a coffee plantation, and a recent foray into gold mining. And as if that wasn’t enough for a man who also counts 90mins training each day as taking it easy, he now seems after much procrastination to be taking the idea of going into national politics increasingly seriously.
He first raised the idea close to a decade ago, but then had second thoughts. “You know, as a successful sportsman, everybody loves you,” he told me at least five years ago, “but the moment you go into politics, immediately 50% of people hate you”. He seems to have got over that obstacle. “Definitely, yes; the question is when. I’m doing a lot at the moment, trying to do my business in a proper way. But I want to do it, it’s not just a political ambition for myself; I want to do something for my country. When you become a politician, it’s not just black and white; there’s a big difference between sport and politics. The question is, what would my position be? Firstly, I want to be a parliamentarian; then we’ll see”.