Geb won’t run again
NEW YORK – With ten miles to go, on the downhill portion of the Queensboro Bridge heading into Manhattan, one of the two or three greatest distance runners of all time began wobbling, then pulled over to the side and simply stopped.
Haile Gebrselassie was done – not just with Sunday’s New York City marathon if he can be believed, but with competitive racing forever. If so, it would be like Babe Ruth disappearing from baseball with barely a trace.
A day earlier, fluid was drained from the 37-year-old Ethiopian’s right knee after an MRI revealed tendinitis. Yet so strong was Gebrselassie’s hold on the sport up until that moment, even though his struggles were apparent, all the other elite racers were still shadowing him.
The moment he faltered, they took off.
“I said, ‘Haile, c’mon,’ but he couldn’t move,” recalled his countryman, Gebre Gebremariam, 26, who slowed briefly before going on to win the race. “He just said: ‘I can’t, Gebre, you have to go on.'”
By the time he arrived at the finish line, though, Gebrselassie sounded even more convinced.
“When I announce this, maybe everybody becomes a little bit shocked. I don’t want to complain anymore after this, which means it’s better to stop here,” he said, fighting back tears.
“I never think about to retire,” Gebrselassie added. “But for the first time, this is the day.”
With time to reflect, Gebrselassie may yet change his mind. He set more than two dozen world bests in every event he competed in from 3,000 meters through the marathon, for which he still holds the record, and twice won Olympic gold in the 10,000 meters. Just days ago, Gebrselassie was talking about running in the 2012 London Olympics.
But the one thing he’s been talking about steadily, and putting his money where his mouth is, is what Gebrselassie calls his “other job” – a network of schools, sports clubs and businesses in Ethiopia employing hundreds in one of the world’s poorest nations. Back home in Addis Ababa, Gebrselassie, the son of a farmer who became wealthy beyond imagination, is hailed as The Emperor.
“They’ll be excited about the winning,” Gebremariam said about his countrymen. “But I think everybody’s worried about his stopping. … So I think in Ethiopia he has to change his plans. He has to continue to race.”
New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg joked afterward, “I told Haile that we’re not accepting resignations today.” (Reuters)