Age diminishes all athletes and for Haile Gebreselassie it seems that the clock has finally caught up on arguably the greatest distance runner in athletics history.
The Ethiopian showed incredible ability throughout his career to win races ranging from 1500m to 10,000m on the track before setting a world record time in the marathon to close out his career.
Having missed the Beijing Olympics, due to concerns that his asthma would be affected by the thick smog inChina, Gebreselassie set his sights on the marathon in this year’s London Olympics as his career swansong.
Last weekend’s Tokyomarathon however seems to have ended those hopes after the 38 year old faded in the closing stages to finish fourth. His time of 2hr08m showed that he is still one of the world’s leading runners by posting the 25th fastest time of the year. Unfortunately however, and crucially for the Olympics, fifteen of his compatriots have run faster times this year, including the three world leading times.
The double Olympic champion and eight times world champion still hopes to run again in the coming weeks to try and punch his ticket toLondonbut to do so he will need to find over four minutes on his Japanese time. There were signs of the old magic still being present in his diminutive frame with the purpose with which Gebreselassie broke away and opened a lead in the opening half of the race but ultimately his body failed him in the closing stages.
The last two years have been filled with such disappointments. TheNew Yorkmarathon in 2010 saw the legendary runner withdraw mid-race with an injury. Last year he had to abort plans to race inTokyofollowing a training injury. Like many of the greats Gebreselassie body had started to fail him.
But like a once great boxer he still believes that there is one more fight, one more chance to claim back the title left in him:
“I could run another marathon in two weeks,” Gebrselassie said after finishing inJapan. “I felt fantastic here for the first 30 kilometers then had some problems at the end of the race.”
With yet another new group of talented Ethiopians looking to make their mark on distance running it is remarkable that 16 years after claiming his first Olympic title still harboured hopes of competing once again.
If this is indeed the end of his career we should count ourselves privileged to have witnessed a legend. In the internet era a new hero is created every minute but the lasting success of Gebreselassie and the grace and poise with which he has always held himself should be remembered.
At a time when so many athletes are unwilling to move outside their comfort zone the ability for Gebreselassie to win world titles at 1,500m, 3,000m and 10,000m would be remarkable in their own right but when you factor in his exploits in the marathon, setting the world record twice, his career is unparalleled.