Today Haile Gebrselassie, one of the greatest distance runners in history, celebrates his 40th birthday. Still pounding out those miles, he secured a third successive Vienna half marathon victory at the weekend. SPIKES marks the occasion by remembering ten classic performances by the Ethiopian.
Thumped, 1992 World Junior Championships, Seoul: 10,000m
A first major international title for Haile but the race is perhaps best known for him being clouted on the head in a fit of anger by Kenyan Josephat Machuka on the home straight. Haile went on to complete the distance double with gold in the 5000m to demonstrate his rich potential.
Clipper, 1993 World Championships, Stuttgart: 10,000m
Haile was involved in another bizarre finish as a little under 400m out he accidentally clipped Moses Tanui from behind, dislodging Tanui’s shoe. Panicked by the incident, Tanui hit himself in the head twice, kicked off his shoe and sprinted ahead like a startled rabbit, opening up a 10-metre lead. Yet Haile bided his time and reeled the Kenyan in to claim his first major senior title.
Record smasher, 1995 Weltklasse Zurich: 5000m
Described by Haile as one of his all-time greatest ever runs, he sliced almost 11 seconds from Kenyan Moses Kiptanui’s existing world record, the largest chunk taken off the men’s 5000m mark in one go since 1932. In a nice act of sportsmanship, Kiptanui hugged Haile moments after he crossed the line in 12:44.39. It was the second of four world outdoor records Haile posted at the distance.
Ignoring severe blisters on the rock-hard Atlanta track, a 57.5 last lap helped propel Haile to his maiden Olympic gold medal and defeat his long-standing rival Paul Tergat, of Kenya. It was one of the many epic career duels between the pair.
Speed king, 1998 Hengelo Grand Prix: 10,000m
Competing on his beloved Hengelo track in the Netherlands, Haile hacked a further five seconds from Paul Tergat’s world record mark. Running at an eye-popping average speed of 2:38 per kilometre, he clocked 26:22.75 to take distance running to a new level.
Multi-eventer,1999 World Indoor Championships, Maebashi: 1500m & 3000m
At the height of his powers, Haile showed his incredible range by completing this rare double. A routine 3000m gold was followed by a quite brilliant victory over the metric mile, as a late burst took up him past 1500m specialist Laban Rotich.
Vintage Haile, 1999 World Championships, Seville: 10,000m
A sub 54.5 second last lap destroyed the opposition as Haile helped himself to a fourth successive World 10,000m title for the distance. In second was, yes, you’ve guessed it: Paul Tergat.
Magic Monday, 2000 Olympic Games, Sydney: 10,000m
The unforgettable ‘Magic Monday’ showdown between Haile and Tergat served up the greatest 10,000m in history. With 15 metres remaining it looked as if the Kenyan had held off the challenge of the defending champion. But with exquisite timing, Haile hauled himself ahead in the final few strides to claim back-to-back Olympic 10,000m titles for Ethiopia.
Rolling back the years, 2004 London Grand Prix: 5000m
Maybe now past his very best on the track, he was still capable of producing the old magic when needed. Rounding the final bend it looked as if Australia’s rising star Craig Mottram was about to take a major scalp but Haile delivered his trademark finishing kick to win by 0.25 in 12:55.51.
Marathon man, 2008 Berlin Marathon
Now specialising in the marathon, Haile posted his second world record for the distance, on the streets of Berlin. He lowered his own world record by 27 seconds and significantly became the first man in history to dip below 2:04 in 2:03:59, a mark which brings the possibility of a sub 2:00 marathon a little closer.